• The“Family Kitchen”Is the Mission of Home Original Chicken

    Abstract: The story of Home Original Chicken is related to its spirit of “putting in the best effort in everything he does”.

    In the show of iAsk: Top Chinese brand figures, the label to Shu Congxuan, the founder of Home Original Chicken, seems ordinary. He has a military background, got his first job in the agriculture industry. However, he changed the career path later. Although with these “ordinary” labels, he has made steady improvement to create the national leading Chinese fast food chain brand, which is also a unique commercial empire with Chinese characteristics.

    From a chicken farm owner to the leader of the national leading fast food enterprise, from the field to the dinning table, Mr. Shu believes that “there is no shortcuts in starting a business”. In this long journey, only hard work can lead to success.

    01 Forge ahead for 38 years to achieve “the first place in China”

    In 1940, the Jewish brothers Mike and Dick MacDonald opened MacDonald, a drive-in restaurant, in San Bernardino which is a small town in western America.

    At that time, cars just entered the middle-class families. When people drove out, they preferred to buy convenient food in roadside restaurants.

    The 52 years old Ray Kroc discovered the potential of fast food.
    After winning the franchise, on April 15, 1955, Ray Kroc opened his private and also the world's first McDonald restaurant in Chicago. Since then, the golden arched "M" logo has been popular in the United States.

    In the same year, Shu Congxuan was 7 years old. He would not have thought that, decades later, his own brand "Home Original Chicken" would become a national trend and the first brand of Chinese fast food.

    "From raising chickens to opening restaurants", "from 1 store to 800 outlets", every step of the development is closely related to Shu’s strategic vision and decisiveness.

    Back in 1978, Anhui Province took the lead in implementing the Household Contract Responsibility System; farmers' enthusiasm for production has been greatly improved. As food stock got surplus, the challenge to sell grains appeared.

    At this moment, Shu returned home from the army. He saw the chance and pondered upon how to turn food into wealth. Eventually, he came up with the idea of running a chicken farm. In 1982, Shu Congxuan spent 1800 yuan, which was his marriage fund sponsored by his parents, to buy 1000 chickens. He then set up a family incubator and became engaged in the chicken breeding industry.

    He has raised chickens for 38 years.

    "I've been sleeping with chickens for seven years since the beginning. If I am at a stranger’s hen house, even blindfolded, I can tell whether the hens feel cold or hot, thirsty or hungry, whether they have diseases, especially respiratory diseases, what kind of disease they have.” Facing the camera of iAsk, Shu’s answer is honest and simple.

    Of course, it's not magical, just because he's a real chicken farmer.

    As a result of his assiduous research into the breeding technology, Shu Congxuan’s chicken breeding is very successful. In 1990, he became the biggest chicken farmer in Hefei, with an average monthly output of more than 600 thousand and an annual profit of about 3-5 million yuan. Later, the opening and expansion of his fast food restaurants depended on the “blood transfusion”of the original fund from the chicken farm.

    As Shu raised more chickens, the more he thought, “I can’t be only a chicken farmer for my own life.”How can he further explore the value of the primary industry?

    In 1999, an invitation for fast food franchising training changed the trajectory of his life. After visiting many fast food chain stores and food processing companies in China, he decided to start his own Chinese fast food chain.

    In 2003, the first "Feixi Old Hens" restaurant opened. Instead of following the trend to make fried chicken, it created a selection of Chinese style chicken dishes based on the flavor of the Chinese people, and emphasized stewed chicken in soup.

    After years of hard work, "Feixi Old Hens" has become a household name in Anhui province.

    However, when the “Feixi Old Hens”was in the strong momentum of development, Shu Congxuan made a decision to rename the brand. "Although hesitating, I wanted to spread the brand outside the province to gain more", said Shu, his tone revealing the decisiveness of a soldier.

    With a new name, the Home Original Chicken has been sought after by many foodies in the market. On great demand, the Home Original Chicken has been popular outside Anhui, and entered the catering market in Jiangsu, Hubei, Shanghai and other places. This is reflected by the more intuitive revenue figures: the brand spent 12 years in generating turnover of more than 1 billion yuan, two years in breaking the record of more than 2 billion yuan, and another one year in achieving more than 3 billion yuan.

    The popularity of Home Original Chicken has also attracted attention from the capital market.

    In 2018, the Harvest Capital invested 200 million yuan in Home Original Chicken. Supported by the fund, Home Original Chicken acquired Yonghe Wuhan in the same year. The stores also increased from 400 to more than 800 in two years. In just one year, the annual revenue exceeded 3 billion yuan.

    In 2019, Home Original Chicken received the honors of "China's best fast food", "China's first fast food", "Black Horse Club entrepreneur of the year" and so on.

    02 Creating Chinese "family kitchen"

    In Shu’s view, the catering industry is changing, with changes taking place in each day.

    On the one hand, many young people, high-tech enterprises and capitals are flowing into the catering industry, and new models and categories are emerging. In the past 30 years, the annual growth rate of the catering industry is 18.6%. In 2018, the catering market revenue exceeded 4 trillion, accounting for 10.5% of the total retail sales in 2018. After the Reform and Opening up, the market share of fast food industry in the whole catering industry has increased from 19% to 26% in the past decade.

    On the other hand, the market dividend of the industry seems to decrease faster. The barrier to entry in the industry is getting lower and lower, the iteration speed is accelerating, and the survival cycle of the enterprise is becoming shorter. According to the 2018 China Restaurant Survey Report, the current closing rate is 70%, and the average life span of restaurants is only 508 days.

    In recent years, Shu has clearly felt that with the rise of the young generation, dining out is becoming normal, especially the "millennial generation" who pursues a fast culture. They don’t like cooking but like fast food, which creates a huge potential market space for the fast food industry.

    "We'll prepare better meals for you." It is Shu’s insight of the market. To meet the current needs of consumers, Shu creatively puts forward the concept of "family kitchen". The restaurant will be close to home, set in the community, and make better Chinese home-style dishes for customers.

    What is the real "Chinese style"? What are the advantages of "Chinese style"? According to Shu Congxuan, in the broad vision and pattern, what is wrapped inside is the strong feeling at home, which is exactly the texture that the Home Original Chicken aims to create.

    In Shu’s vision, texture comes from repeated grinding and polishing. Adhering to this concept, every detail of the dining experience, from taste, environment to service, Shu and the team have made in-depth thinking: the simple chandelier sprinkles warm light; the hot open kitchen is full of flavors and heat. The scene descripts the taste of eating together with family, and Home Original Chicken integrates the elements of "home" into every detail. From hand washing before meals, self-service during meals, to make-up after meals, every seemingly ordinary place has the warmest texture, reflecting the worldliness and feelings of people.

    Now, what Shu is proud of is that when walking into the Home Original Chicken restaurant, we can often see many customers take their children or parents to dinner, or even elderly with their grandchildren being "just like at home".

    "I think what the consumption and service deliver at the end is to make people happier, healthier, more fulfilled and entertained." In the conversation, he became excited and emotional. "When I saw a child and his family come to our store and eat up our food, I felt that I had done the right thing."

    03 "Perfection" by always improving and standardizing

    How can a restaurant that specializes in chicken soup break through its bottleneck of development?

    The answer lies in“standardization”.

    Learning from the industry giant McDonald, Shu made regulations that the staff entering the kitchen must wash their hands to their elbows, and the cleaning time should be not less than 20 seconds. Even for the operators, as long as they leave the kitchen, they have to wash hands.

    At McDonald's, even a piece of bread is in a standard size. There is a simple "caliper" made of hard paper on each operating platform to measure the height and width of hamburger quickly.

    However, it is difficult for Chinese food to be as standardized and process oriented as KFC and McDonald. But Shu firmly believes that "as long as one explores, standardization will not be a problem."

    He did it.

    Different from the 40 day fast-growing white feather chicken used by other restaurants, the Feixi hens must be raised for 180 days. The chickens are kept by contract farmers for 120 days before gaining the weight of 1.6kg, and then transferred to the company breeding base for further cultivation. About the selection of food materials, the Home Original Chicken only cooperates with the first-line brands such as Nongfu Spring, Golden Dragon Fish, COFCO and Lee Kum Kee. Each grain of rice, every drop of oil and every flavor of seasoning has a set of strict standards to ensure that consumers access to safe food.
    In the view of Shu Congxuan, only the 180 day chicken stewed with Nongfu mountain spring water can ensure the clarity and pure freshness of the soup. Otherwise, it will affect the quality, and the stewed chicken soup will not be good. This is the meaning of "standardization".

    In addition to the chicken soup, every dish of Home Original Chicken follows strict rules. If any dishes don’t meet the standard, follow the procedure, or haven't been sold for two hours after they are made, they can’t be served to customers. In terms of sanitary details, the Home Original Chicken has many strict hygienic requirements. Each stage has detailed regulations, such as mopping the floor till it shines. All disinfection cabinets are imported from overseas, to begin with slag removal, followed by two times 90 degrees high temperature washing and disinfection. Even simple rags are managed in the system: red for toilets, blue for back halls, and yellow for main halls. The same is true for mops. All personnel can identify which color to use at a glance, so as to effectively avoid cross contamination.

    In addition, there is an internal rule that all procedures must be linked and checked at all levels. Problems found in each link must be traced upstream. If the problem is about the food, the food supplier shall be fined in accordance with the contract, and the money shall go to the person who identifies the problem.
    These methods may seem old fashion, but they are quite practical. The glory of the Home Original Chicken is closely related to the “old style” hard work and accumulation. From raw materials, operation procedures to tools and equipment, the secret of standardization is recorded in 24 thick management manuals. These manuals cover all aspects of fast food business, such as production, procurement, service, store planning, and hygiene, etc. Each rule is extremely detailed, including how the employees wash their hands, what the waitress hairstyle look like. All are given specific operation guidelines.

    Take the flagship kitchen in Hefei as an example, many employees are farmers from surrounding villages and towns. When they first arrived, they could not even queue up for dinner. But after strict training and by following specifications of Home Original Chicken, they are now in great order. Everyone wears uniform, mask and hair net at work, and no cigarette butts can be found in the factory. What Shu is most proud of is that the cooked food workshop has reached the level of 100,000 purification zone. In his words, "even surgeries can be operated inside."

    What is more difficult and valuable than excellent organization and management is the constant exploration and innovation of Home Original Chicken since it was established. Shu Congxuan has realized the dilemma for the industry development, made the organizational drive a new power, and let innovation become a "new gold mine" for enterprises to make breakthroughs.

    First of all, in terms of products, Home Original Chicken should ensure the launch of new dishes every month, which is very difficult for large enterprises. On the management, it boldly adopts open kitchen and moves the soup making post to the bar. The diners can witness the 21 procedures of stewing the pure chicken soup with Nongfu mountain spring. In addition, Shu also introduces digitalization to management, so that suppliers, flagship kitchens and stores form a digitalized management path.

    Each tiny innovational change brings efficient improvement and brand diffusion of the Home Original Chicken.

    Reminiscing about the past, Shu sometimes recalls of a long set of goals on his 23rd birthday: to earn 100,000 yuan at the age of 30, 1 million yuan at the age of 40, 10 million yuan at the age of 50, and 100 million yuan at the age of 60.

    After years of accumulation, Shu’s wishes have changed from numbers, to specific "brand landscapes". He hopes that the Home Original Chicken can be loved by Chinese families, developed in depth, and be practical. In the fast-moving city scene, Home Original Chicken keeps its flavor and offers a bowl of sincere and hot chicken soup. Much more than digits, it carries warmth, flavor, love and faith with its soup.

    About iAsk
    iAsk Media offers in-depth coverage, distribution, and brand-building services for founders in both China inbound and outbound markets. Over the past five years, iAsk Media has published over 1300 pieces of founder-focused original text and audio content, and produced over 120 premium video dialogues with leading entrepreneurs and investors.
    iAsk Capital further supports founders by complementing media, brand-building, and marketing solutions with a wide range of investment and advisory services, from growth capital and direct equity investment to fundraising, asset management, and M&A support. To date, iAsk Capital has completed investments in some of China’s fastest growing ventures, including Bytedance, Himalaya, Movietime, and Horizon Robotics.
    Gloria Ai
    Gloria Ai is the founder of iAsk Media and the founding manager of iAsk Capital, and a former venture partner at the Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund. She serves as the international brand ambassador to her hometown of Huangshan, and was Forbes 30 Under 30 in the Media, Marketing & Advertising category. She is a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School and Peking University. Prior to founding iAsk, she served as a financial news correspondent for China Central Television in New York.

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