Koufu food & Huilong Market
The second generation owner of Koufu Food, Chen Yuan Yuan
On a cool afternoon in Keelung, Taiwan, the aroma of freshly baked bread fills the air as we make our way to Koufu Food (口福食品) on Ren’er Road, where fried twisted dough and buns have become synonymous with the bakery. However, the second-generation owner, Chen Yuan Yuan, was not there when we arrive. Her employee informs us that she's waiting for us at Huilong Market (惠隆市場), the original storefront of the bakery.
Once a bustling hub of activity, the Huilong Market nestled in the heart of Keelung has fallen out of favor with locals and tourists alike, with most of its aisles now empty. But one business, Koufu, remains determined to keep the market alive.
From Humble Beginnings to a Flourishing Business
Chen's husband (Hu Junmin) family has been running this bakery in Huilong Market since 1980. The bakery's story began in 1980 when Chen's husband's family started it. Chen's father-in-law (Hu Zonglong) learned the art of making bread and buns from an old veteran who became acquainted with him while searching for his long-lost son and wife in Taiwan. Chen's husband and his elder sister have been helping their father since they were children. "They used to wake up at 3 am to make fried twisted dough and buns and take naps under the store counter before heading to school," Chen recounts.
Keeping the Legacy Alive
"I met my husband in junior high school," Chen began, smiling at the memory. "I was a junior, and he was my senior, a batch above me.”
They inherited the family business after getting married. They expanded their offerings to avoid lull periods, adding festive offerings like gua bao during Weiya, as well as introducing Western bread and pastries. Their efforts paid off as they expanded beyond the original store to two other more prominent storefronts and even a coffee shop. Their stall is one of the rare shining stars in the market, unlike many other businesses in the market that stopped because the second generation did not want to take over.
Expanding Beyond the Market: Supplying to Restaurants and Temples
The original storefront in Huilong Market
Their stall is now the go-to place for temples, including Mazu Temple, looking for prayer food items like fried twisted dough, buns, and longevity buns. They also supply to restaurants such as Jin Ri Shi Tang (今日食堂活海鮮餐廳), Jing Pai San Jie Mei (金牌三姊妹活海產餐廳), and other Fuzhou restaurants.
"We have no intention of making our offerings available online," Chen tells us. "Our business is enough as it is. We mostly sell to locals, and even if some customers move out of town, they still come back every week to buy our products."
Keeping the Human Touch
Chen believes that the camaraderie among vendors is what sets the market apart. For instance, when one elderly store owner was issued a warning by a traffic warden, the market vendors banded together to protest and make space for him to park his motorbike elsewhere.
At this point, Chen noticed a retired store owner who used to sell tempura walking by and called out to him, "We were just talking about you!" The old man had learnt his craft from a Japanese soldier based in Taiwan and still couldn't bear to throw away his tempura machine. Chen explains that he is one of those retirees who still returns to the market every day at 4 pm to see his old friends and chat. This sense of community is what makes the market special.
Chen's father-in-law used to have another stall at Ren’Ai Market, but he closed it down. Chen believes it is because he didn't feel the camaraderie and warmth as everyone was too busy with their businesses.
"Our customers come to us not just for the food, but for the camaraderie," Chen says. "They continue to buy from us even though our prices are higher than other markets because you can't find this camaraderie elsewhere."
Revitalizing Huilong Market: Challenges and Hopes
Huilong Market has since fallen out of favour
The changing consumer demands, and the round-the-clock convenience of supermarkets, have made it difficult to attract customers. “The market may not have everything you need, such as chicken or beef, but it has much to offer in terms of camaraderie and warmth,” she explains.
As we wrapped up our conversation, Chen shared her vision for the future of the market. She hopes that the vendors can work together to offer discounts and promotions to revitalize the bustling atmosphere of the past. "If we can work together, we can bring more young people back and make the market thrive again."
As we said goodbye and left the market, the aroma of fresh bread and the memories of the warm, welcoming atmosphere lingered on. We were grateful for the experience as it reminded us of the importance of supporting local businesses like Huilong Market, which embody the unique charm and sense of community that can easily disappear without our help.
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