“…This specially developed dish has a delicate flavor. Every strip of the Hunan rice noodle was well soaked in the mysterious Chinese Huo Xiang Zheng Qi potion*. If you taste it along with the side houttuynia cordata, a blended fresh scent will soon spread in your mouth…Sorry I can’t do this any more! I am about to cry or puke…”

This is from the official Weibo account of Fu Niu Tang, a startup company that sells rice noodle in Beijing, promoting their dark cuisine “Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Potion Houttuynia Cordata Rice Noodle”.

Don’t worry if you find this name disturbingly long and hard to understand, because it is exactly the same as the original Chinese version.

The story of Fu Niu Tang was mostly known through reportages that focused on the founder, Tianyi Zhang, who earned his master’s degree from Peking University in 2014 and decided to start his own business.

The drastic deviation from a law school graduate of the best university in China to a rice noodle restaurant owner attracted vast attention both through the dissemination of Tianyi Zhang’s own writing “The story of a Peking University graduate student: The reasons why I choose to sell rice noodles” on social media platforms including Weibo and Wechat and a wide range of media coverage on his life story.

Inspired by his previous catering experience and the success of other newly developed food brands, Tianyi Zhang decided to step into the food industry before he graduated from Peking University. A man from Hunan province and a loyal lover of rice noodles, he managed to bring the spice of hometown into the capital city. Tianyi Zhang and his other three companions were the only employers and were responsible for cooking, operation, promotion, accounting…everything that you can think of.

His rice noodle restaurant started from a 400 square feet restaurant on the ground floor of World Financial Center, one of the busiest office buildings in Beijing’s Central Business District, on April 4th, 2014.

With the help of social media, this small rice noodle restaurant attracted a lot of customers. In one year, three other branch restaurants opened for business and the whole revenue reached approximately one million. As of April 2015, Fu Niu Tang Catering Culture Co., Ltd has 60 employees, four restaurants and two new branch restaurants under renovation.

Other than selling rice noodles that are made from carefully tested recipes, Fu Niu Tang also aims to promote its own lifestyle by holding events like the Dark Cuisine Challenge mentioned above, arm wrestling (winning means free rice noodle but losing means double checks) and world’s spiciest rice noodle competition (finish the world’s spiciest rice noodle and get a 10 percent discount card as well as a Ba Man T-shirt**).

Besides the people from Hunan province who are naturally attracted, these vibrant activities give the Beijingers and even people from all the other districts in China the reason to visit Fu Niu Tang and develop personal attachment with it.

Although Tianyi Zhang keeps vigilant while watching over his rice noodle business, he believes that proper branding is one of the most important reasons for him to achieve the interim success.

In his opinion, branding helps the startup company in three ways: attracting investors; recruiting talents and promoting the corporate culture; bringing in customers.

“It is definitely right to put a lot of effort into improving products, but branding is also at the core of bringing a company to success,” Tianyi Zhang concluded.

 

Tianyi Zhang’s suggestions for people looking to start their own business:

  1. Be aware that the possibility of success is rare. Do not set “achieving success” as your goal. Instead, recognize your gains and self-improvements in this trying process. In other words, there is no guaranteed success when starting a business.
  2. Make sure that your intended business has considerable growth space and industry scale. Also think about your advantages in doing business and whether or not there is a chance to get exponential growth.

 

*Huo Xiang Zheng Qi potion: A strong and weird taste burner potion which is the childhood nightmare of many Chinese young people.

**Ba Man T-shirt: A simple but chic T-shirt specially designed for Fu Niu Tang. Ba Man means being perseverant in extremely hard conditions in Hunan dialect.

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Shibei Ding is a digital journalist and a researcher in the communication field. Her interest include gender, race, social media and e-commerce. She has experience in multimedia reporting as well as investigative journalism. After two years study in mass communication at the University of Florida, she is now seeking to start her career at the crossroad of journalism and research.

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