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Greater costs and competition could push Norwich restaurant out of business

PUBLISHED: 05:30 23 August 2018 | UPDATED: 13:15 23 August 2018

Ying-Kit Ngai, owner/manager of Baby Buddha in Ber Street, Norwich. He and his parents, with whom he runs the Chinese restaurant, are looking to sell the business. Picture: Bethany Whymark

Ying-Kit Ngai, owner/manager of Baby Buddha in Ber Street, Norwich. He and his parents, with whom he runs the Chinese restaurant, are looking to sell the business. Picture: Bethany Whymark

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Another Norwich restaurant could be heading out of business due to competition from takeaway services such as Deliveroo and rising business rates.

Ying-Kit Ngai, owner/manager of Baby Buddha in Ber Street, Norwich. He and his parents, with whom he runs the Chinese restaurant, are looking to sell the business. Picture: Bethany WhymarkYing-Kit Ngai, owner/manager of Baby Buddha in Ber Street, Norwich. He and his parents, with whom he runs the Chinese restaurant, are looking to sell the business. Picture: Bethany Whymark

The owners of Baby Buddha have put their business up for sale as increasing costs have clashed with consumer pressure to keep prices down.

Ying-Kit Ngai and his parents, Sunny and Lisa, opened the Chinese restaurant in Ber Street in February 2009 and expanded into the neighbouring building, previously occupied by the Horse and Dray pub, two years later.

But taking on the expenses of two buildings – including business rates, which have climbed by £2,800 for their buildings in the past two years, and energy and maintenance costs for two dining areas and two kitchens – has taken its toll on the family business over the past 18 months.

Times are tough for the restaurant sector as staff and resources costs continue to spiral. Chains like Prezzo and Byron Burger have shut branches while in Norwich independents like E Street Smokehouse and Woolf and Bird have also closed.

Baby Buddha Chinese teahouse, Norwich after its opening in 2009.   Picture: Nick ButcherBaby Buddha Chinese teahouse, Norwich after its opening in 2009. Picture: Nick Butcher

Mr Ngai said: “We are living in challenging times. With the likes of Deliveroo, people only really dine out nowadays for special occasions. It is not like it was 10 years ago.

“Even along this street we have seen a lot of people come and go in the catering business because they do not understand before they get into it all the costs.

“There are not a lot of Chinese restaurants that are in direct competition with us but there are a lot of Chinese takeaways. We do takeaways but we cannot compete on the price because it devalues our in-house food.”

Mr Ngai said hiring staff for the restaurant, which turns over around £500,000 a year, had also proved challenging. The kitchen has around five chefs, including his father, and up to 15 part-time front-of-house staff.
“In a Chinese restaurant you need Chinese chefs and with Norwich not being a city with a big Asian community they are harder to find,” he said.

After an unsuccessful attempt to sell one half of the building, both halves are now on the market.

But Mr Ngai said that, if a buyer is found for one half, there may be scope to keep a “scaled-down” Baby Buddha going either as a dim sum café or in its current teahouse guise.

“We doubled the size of the site – you do not double the revenue but you do double your overheads. Sometimes you realise that bigger is not better,” he said.

“We might want to continue. We will not move it somewhere else, we will continue to run it here.
“We are plodding along but there is no point just doing that – we may as well scale down and refocus on what we are good at.”

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