Crystal Jade bought over by LVMH

From ‘LVMH adds Crystal Jade to Singapore Jewel Box’, 30 April 2014, article by Cai Haoxiang, Business  Times

After three years of courtship, L Capital Asia, the private-equity arm of French luxury goods giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, has bought home-grown Chinese restaurant group Crystal Jade in a deal that market sources place at around US$100 million.

As L Capital adds yet another Singapore name to its growing collection of brands, Crystal Jade is set to soar in coming years. The restaurant group will tap LVMH’s expertise in branding and marketing, as well as its relationships with landlords worldwide to place outlets in strategic locations.

It plans to expand to Europe and the Middle East in addition to other parts of the world. An initial public offering (IPO) could eventually also be on the cards.

“The business has come to a size that is quite big, and my age is not suitable to carry the business to another level,” Crystal Jade group chairman and CEO Ip Yiu Tung, 65, told The Business Times over dinner at Paragon’s Crystal Jade Golden Palace restaurant, confirming market talk in the past month that the company had been sold.

“The new owner … is good in planning, promoting, marketing, know-how that we lack,” he added.

The Crystal Jade Empire first started out in 1991 at the now demolished Cairnhill Hotel, and it took one customer (Hongkonger, now Singapore PR) to pump in 2 million dollars to revive what was then a flagging business. That same customer would take the ‘home-grown’ brand international, become chairman and CEO, and later sell it to a luxury conglomerate which also owns Sincere watches and Charles and Keith. Interestingly, the founder of fierce rival Imperial Treasure is Alfred Leung, brother-in-law and ex-partner of Ip Yiu Tung, Leung being the one who founded the original Crystal Jade in the first place, later splitting from Ip over ‘differences in philosophy’.   As far as I’m aware, Imperial Treasure hasn’t ventured into Vietnamese yet. Maybe with LVMH taking over, you’d see baguettes on their menu too. Seriously, if I craved for Viet food, I’d go to a Viet place, not C-Jade Viet Cafe (formerly C-Jade HK Cafe) at Bugis Plus (formerly Iluma).

The group was doing rather well in the mid-nineties. One of the owners Tan Ban Cheong was staying in a bungalow in Holland Road in 1996, with a ST report revealing that he owns a total of 3 Mercedes Benzes. Unfortunately, in the same article, it was reported that his wife was caught parking one of them in a disabled lot at Ngee Ann City, of which a ST photographer on assignment happily snapped away. This was a PR disaster which tarnished the chain’s reputation, accounting for their media ‘reticence’ from then on. And this was before the existence of STOMP, when it was ST journalists, not CITIZEN journalists, exposing people at their most vulnerable.

If you wanted Chinese banquet-lite or yum cha in the past, Crystal Jade was the place to be, but the chain developed some interesting ‘culinary concepts’ over the years. From its flagship high-end Cantonese diner in Ngee Ann City, management decided to diversify to insane Hydra levels. Today, Crystal Jade boasts an array of fine, family and casual dining for the discerning and, in this case, confused, Asian gastronome, from Seafood Steamboat to Korean Ginseng Chicken, even a Korean BBQ buffet at Nex. What next, Crystal Jade Tom Yum Hotpot?

FnB is a cutthroat business of course, with younger upstarts like our homegrown Paradise Group, Taiwan’s Din Tai Fung (Lim Swee Say’s favourite for dumplings and toothpicks) and HK’s Tim Ho Wan all making strides in the Chinese dining scene. Crystal Jade hasn’t been immune to bad business decisions either. Here’s a list of faux pas in their bid to trump the competition and become the creme de la creme of all things yum cha.

  • Crystal Jade CAKERY, which I suspect later evolved into Crystal Jade My Bread, to catch the bakery wave. I’m amazed that ‘cakery’ is even a word.

Only time will tell if the hip ‘C-Jade’ branding, seemingly aimed at the younger crowd, would catch on. It’s already confusing telling the following apart: Crystal Jade Restaurant, Crystal Jade Dining Place and Crystal Jade Kitchen, when all I want is to eat char siew bao. There’s even a C-Jade Express ‘fast-food concept’, which sounds like the lovechild of Bakery and Kitchen. Hopefully LVMH would sort these names out once and for all, without touching the actual menus too much. Admittedly I’m a fan of the La Mian Xiao Long Bao restaurants, and the last thing I want to see is my favourite dishes Frenching out on me. Tiger Beer, after acquisition by Dutch Heineken, still tastes like Tiger Beer (save for the much misunderstood Tiger Radler). Let’s hope their Har Gaos and Siew Mais, the ‘piece de resistance’ couplet of all Dim Sum,  stay the same too.

Crystal Jade menu Google Translated

Crystal Jade menu Google Translated

Erratum: Steamed chicken feet with Black Bean Sauce should be translated as ‘pieds de poulet cuits à la vapeur’. The Chinese character for ‘melon’ and ‘talon’ differs by two tiny strokes. Yes, chicken feet is literally ‘phoenix talons’.

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