True loaf of the job

True loaf of the job

A Sha Tin bakery has provided the community with their daily bread for nearly 40 years


Wong Yau-fat, manager of Hon Wo Bakery, says the business was started in the 1960s.
Wong Yau-fat, manager of Hon Wo Bakery, says the business was started in the 1960s.
Photos: David Wong/SCMP
Prices at Hon Wo Bakery, which has catered to Sha Tin residents for the past 37 years, have - unlike its bread and cakes - never risen with the times.

Each morning from 2am since 1975, the smell of fresh-baked bread has wafted up from the bakery, on the ground floor of Wah Fung House at Lek Yuen Estate. The bakery prides itself on serving the community with its good-value, quality products.

So that price of HK$1.50 for a pineapple bun is correct.

Wong Yau-fat, who is in his 60s and manages the bakery, says the business was started in Sha Tin by his father in-law in the 1960s. It moved to its present home in 1975 after the estate was built.

Since then, it has baked bread for the community every day. Staff start work long before dawn so that they can deliver freshly baked bread, buns and cakes to restaurants in Sha Tin, Tai Po and Tai Wo.

People from all walks of life come to the shop to buy bread and buns. On special occasions, such as last Saturday's Dragon Boat Festival, the bakery - which is located near the Shing Mun river - takes extra orders for spectators and participants in the dragon boat races.

Wong says he has forgotten how many years he has been working at Hon Wo. "I really can't remember how long," he says.

"My father in-law passed the business to my brother in-law, who passed it on to his son, but he was not interested in running the bakery. So I've managed the operation each day and people have started to call me the 'owner' of the bakery."

Hon Wo's bread is cheap; a plain bun, and a bun with filling, sell for HK$2 and HK$3, respectively; an eight-slice loaf of bread, weighing just less than 450g, for HK$4.50, but the bakery also offers discounts on big orders.

A few years ago, the bakery started offering its popular daily special, where each day it sells a different bread bun - such as pineapple buns, sesame rolls and cocktail buns - for only HK$1.50.

One of the bakery staff with a tray of freshly baked pineapple buns.

"We know that not everyone likes pineapple buns," Wong says. "So we provide a great choice to ensure the whole community will like something."

He says selling products at low prices doesn't mean a drop in quality or quantity. He says that Hon Wo uses flour produced by respected Hong Kong makers, Lam Soon, top-grade eggs from Thailand and imported Dutch Edam cheese.

"The secret of lowering costs is to keep the bread 'natural'," he says. "We cut our expenses by not adding additives, flavourings and preservatives. To be honest, we hired three bakers for the night shift and two for the day shift and all of them are senior citizens and know only how to bake traditional bread.

"They don't know anything about artificial flavourings or additives. Such chemicals are expensive, too. Some other bakers may use them in bread, but we don't. We don't use baking powder either to expand a bun's volume. All this can help save a lot of money."

Hong Kong has seen many changes and ups and downs in past decades, but the bakery has survived.

"We're not affected by big changes in the economy; people always need bread as it is an essential food," Wong says.

Yet life is changing. The Housing Authority is building a lift for the upper levels of Wah Fung House, slightly hiding the bakery from view for now.

The company managing the estate shops has also increased the bakery's rent - which used to be only a few thousand dollars - to more than HK$20,000 a month, which has made business more difficult.

"I hope the rent doesn't go up again or we'll not be able to stay. Then our customers will end up paying two or three times as much in the nearby stores," Wong says.

"So I hope I can continue to manage the bakery until I'm too old to do so. I love serving our community."



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