“I have no advice to give. The truth is, I just do waffles. Breakfast food. I don’t aspire to be anything big. I have no delusions of grandeur or anything like that,” says Eddy Lam – a refreshingly modest statement about what his business is built on. “I really just appreciate humble food that may not look artsy or be fine dining, but at the end, it feeds people at a good price and they feel good after eating it.”
The founder of Green Waffle Diner may have humble aspirations for his eatery, but in Hong Kong’s ever-changing dining landscape, a restaurant that survives and remains consistent for 10 years is no easy feat – especially as an independent operator. Now more than ever, independent restaurants deserve our support and appreciation.
Husband-and-wife team Eddy Lam and Yuki Lo (who were not yet married when they opened Green Waffle Diner) embarked on their simple mission to bring comforting, diner-style food to Hong Kong in 2010. They started out with one spot on Graham Street, Central – which remains there today – and expanded with branches in Causeway Bay and Yuen Long.
For Eddy, who grew up in Canada, working in the food and beverage industry was the norm. Since the age of 14, he worked summer jobs at restaurants and fell in love with the culture of F&B.
We sat down with Eddy to find out how Green Waffle Diner’s wholesome success story came to be and what the future holds for the beloved diner.
Smoothie bowls are healthy options at Green Waffle Diner
How did Green Waffle Diner begin?
Ten years ago, Hong Kong didn’t really have cafés; they were just up and coming. We wanted comfort food that was simple and homely. We were one of the first places that did waffles. I think we’re still the only place that has gluten-free buckwheat waffles. That’s still a big seller, but we started doing that 10 years ago. We were always kind of health conscious. I know comfort food is comforting for a reason, but we also wanted to broaden our market, make it more family friendly. So we added more healthy stuff; that’s why we’re called the Green Waffle. We made a [literally] green waffle, but we also wanted people to come and see that there are other healthy alternatives.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome this past decade?
It was tough in the beginning, because it was our first restaurant. There’s gonna be arguments, and it’s always gonna be a high-pressure situation. Me and my wife, we had difficult times and there was a lot of stress. But at the end, we still felt good. We could see people really enjoying the food and would be back for that. For us, it was never just about the money. If we were wanting to be money focused, we would have done something more fine dining or quick and easy. Ours is a labour of love, because we actually prep all our food ourselves. It’s been difficult, but the most difficult thing is finding the right people to work with.
Blue Horizon latte, one of Green Waffle’s speciality coffees
What made you decide to expand from one restaurant to what is now three restaurants?
We actually just kind of met the right person. Remember Mona Fong [wife of the late Run Run Shaw] from TVB? She came to our store about seven or eight years ago, and she liked it. She came a couple more times, and then she literally just offered us a nice spot at JP Plaza [in Causeway Bay], right by the movie theatre. She wasn’t trying to make money from us, because the money I could make for her was just minuscule [compared] to what she normally probably spends in a day. She’s the owner of TVB! She was just trying to help us; I still appreciate it. A young person was trying to make it, and she saw that. She didn’t invest; she just gave us that opportunity. We expanded, and then there were other malls approaching us. We got really lucky.
What have been some of the highs and lows of your journey so far?
This year has been the craziest year I’ve ever seen in my life. It was just constant turmoil, money problems... so that’s definitely the low. The highest? There’s no real high in food and beverage. It’s just consistency every day. We get a lot of enjoyment from seeing people eat the food and being happy and satisfied with it. That’s the greatest thing we can get from it. In this industry, it’s all about the small things. Seeing people happy every day.
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Do you have any advice for independent restaurateurs or people just starting out in the industry?
If you’re going to be your own boss, you should know everything you need to know. The back of house, food, and you need to know the front of house. If you’re starting out like we did from one restaurant, you’re going to have to be very hands on. Know that you will be cooking or working 16 hours a day, at least at the beginning.
How has your menu evolved since the beginning?
Except for our staples, our skillets and waffles and the lumberjack breakfast, everything else has progressed in terms of being more healthy and more concerned with diet trends. Vegan, gluten free, carb free... we’ve added smoothie bowls with superfood powder. We’ve added porridge, steel-cut oats. We allow people to pick and choose; instead of having home fries on the side, they can pick a salad or honey[dew] melon. Our drink menu has extensively grown. We used to just do smoothies and a bit of coffee, but now we have all these other things. But those are still our staples – our smoothies and our coffee.
The lumberjack breakfast has been on the menu from day one
What is your most popular dish?
Oh, the steak and eggs hash skillet, by far! To this day, it’s still our bestseller.
So, even with all the vegan and gluten-free additions, everyone still just wants steak and eggs?
It’s funny, but it’s true. It’s hard to go out and eat with people who are vegetarian when some places don’t cater to that. Health is very important now for people in general. They’re concerned about the information that’s out there and are realising that when they eat healthier food, they feel better. We want them to feel healthy and also be satisfied. I’ve seen places solely focused on being health conscious, and they never work out because it’s just too specialised. You need a place that caters to everyone’s flavour. And that’s what a diner is; it’s an everyday restaurant for everyday people. Anybody can come – in their suits or they can come in their PJs – and that’s what I like about it.
The steak and eggs hash skillet remains the most popular menu item
Now that the Western diet is more prevalent in Hong Kong, have you found you have more competition?
Absolutely, especially in Central. We used to be the only breakfast place on Graham Street, but now we’re surrounded. The competition’s getting a lot more fierce, but that’s normal. Just like any industry, if you don’t progress, you’re going to be left behind. That’s also why we specialised in malls more, because we wanted to bring it to the more local market. I opened in Central first because I knew people would want that kind of food there. But now we’ve noticed that local people in Hong Kong really like our comfort food too. We’re trying to move out to the further districts; we‘ve got one in Yuen Long now. We had to build up the clientele there because they’re not familiar with it. But once they get used to it, the sales get better.
Do you have any goals for the future?
I’m pretty happy with just keeping it kind of small. I don’t aspire to be McDonald’s or some big conglomerate. I’m really happy with just serving good food and what I can manage. I don’t think we have any big plans any time soon. We’re just like everybody else – we’re just kind of seeing what’s going to happen next.
Central: 35–39 Graham Street, 2887 9991
Causeway Bay: Shop 1303, 13/F, Hysan Place, 500 Hennessy Road, 2880 5123
Yuen Long: Shop G002, G/F, YOHO MALL I, 9 Yat Long Road, 2363 0938
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