The upscale Chinese restaurant owned by Paradise Group Holdings Pte. Ltd. from Singapore is looking to go toe-to-toe with the popular Din Tai Fung restaurant chain for its U.S. expansion kicking off at South Coast Plaza.
It has also tapped Irvine to be its domestic corporate office.
“We have big plans for the U.S. in particular, which is why we are operating out [in the country] on our own because we feel the U.S. has got huge potential,” said Paradise Group founder and CEO Eldwin Chua.
Chua sees plenty of space in the market for his upscale flagship concept, Paradise Dynasty, which touts its halo dish, the Rainbow Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings), and tags itself “Legend of Xiao Long Bao.”
$170M in 2019
Chua described Paradise Dynasty as being Chinese style food with Singaporean influences.
That positioning places it squarely in line with the popular Din Tai Fung, which is also at South Coast Plaza among other locations, oftentimes commanding long lines out the door.
“If you think about it, proper Chinese [food], the only proper Chinese chain restaurant in L.A. or in the U.S. is Din Tai Fung,” Chua said.
“The restaurants are all so-called American-style, Chinese restaurants and, of course, you have mom and pops with one or two [locations], but other than that, a proper chain, I feel it’s only Din Tai Fung.”
The strategy will be to make a splash at South Coast with the Paradise Dynasty flagship concept, along with the company’s Le Shrimp Ramen.
The latter is one of Paradise Group’s newer brands among its 12-concept portfolio, spanning Chinese fine dining to casual and ramen.
The group totals 110 company-owned and franchised restaurants in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, generating a total of $170 million in 2019 revenue.
The goal is to open at South Coast in the second quarter, although that’s contingent on COVID-19 and the timing on the easing of the state’s restrictions.
It took about five years and lots of pushback from landlords before securing the real estate for the location at South Coast.
“It wasn’t easy setting up a restaurant in a prominent location in L.A., because landlords would prefer a brand [that’s] already established in L.A., so we were a nobody in the U.S. without any track record. Landlords had been very reluctant to do business with us,” Chua said.
“Immediately, I heard South Coast Plaza, I mean, I fell down and spoke to the landlord and it was a very positive discussion.”
Paradise Group’s two restaurants will be inside Collage, a food hall concept being built within Bloomingdale’s, which owns its property at the Costa Mesa shopping center.
Paradise Dynasty, specifically, will be within the former Charlie Palmer space.
South Coast Plaza, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on the company going into Bloomingdale’s or as a potential competitor to Din Tai Fung, which is in the portion of the mall owned and operated by C.J. Segerstrom & Sons.
The food hall’s being developed by Irvine-based J+R Group LLC. The real estate firm’s portfolio consists of some 19 properties totaling more than 464,000 square feet, and spans multifamily, mixed-use and office projects, including several near John Wayne Airport in Irvine.
J+R founder and CEO Morgan Zhang said he carefully selected the brands going into his 16,00-square-foot Collage project, which he said will “raise the bar in terms of cohesive, luxury design.” Between four and five of the concepts are set to open in a soft opening slated for the summer, with another dozen to roll out in the months after.
“My passion for hospitality started with a personal interest and love for traveling,” Zhang said. “My family and I have visited over 70% of planet Earth, and I want to share the culture, cuisine and what’s happening around the rest of the world with the Orange County community.”
Once Paradise’s Costa Mesa locations are running and established, the plan would be to open another two in Paradise Group’s second year in business in the U.S., Chua said.
The group had previously eyed Beverly Hills and Santa Monica before nabbing the Orange County space. Chua said he doesn’t have a longer-term target number in mind to grow the chain.
“Everything, it’s all organic for me, my pace. We are ambitious. I mean, I’m ambitious in that I want to grow internationally whereby everybody will know what is Paradise Dynasty,” he said.
“I want to [position] myself to be the national brand, whereby we are recognized for our good food and services. I’m also cautious in a way to make sure the business is sustainable, and I don’t open for the sake of opening. We have been to new markets and been very successful. So, yes, keep your fingers crossed.”
Currently, the company is grappling with the lingering uncertainty around operating California restaurant industry restrictions due to the pandemic as well as, materials stuck at the ports in China and San Pedro. It will also need to do training for the U.S. once the opening is closer.
Outside the U.S., expansion into Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia via franchisees have all been postponed due to COVID-19.
“This pandemic has hit us very hard. It’s a very challenging environment and we’ve been managing our business with dedication and extreme caution,” he said. “We have already invested a considerable amount of money [in the U.S.] and, not only that, over the years we have been scouting for the talent. So, we wouldn’t want to put all this effort into vain and are proceeding with this project with a lot of calculated risk.”
‘Zero to Mini Empire’
That thinking is what Chua started the business with some 15 years ago.
After graduating from school and finishing his service in the army, he got an office job. The economy wasn’t so great in the late ’90s and Chua ended up borrowing about $7,000 from friends to open a small coffee shop and store in Singapore.
“During that time, jobs were hard to find and I really didn’t know what to do,” he said. “It’s the entrepreneurial spirit: just do it, work very hard. I worked 20 hours a day, from the grocery shopping in the morning all the way to at night when closing. I was really tired at the time because you don’t have capital and you have to do everything yourself. I only started with a chef and assistant that helped me to do ordering and clearing [tables]. I would take orders and do the cooking, starting only with wok stuff.”
It grew from there as the coffee shop was converted into a seafood restaurant in 2002 called Seafood Paradise. It was 25 seats in
Singapore’s Defu Lane. Chua saved the profits from that concept, opening a second restaurant in 2006, called Taste of Paradise.
Paradise Group was established two years later, giving way to more than 100 restaurants throughout Asia and the U.S. once the Costa Mesa location opens.
“Everything was organic,” Chua said of his business. “I always tell my friends who ask how I got to this stage I am today, I always tell them my story is from zero to, really, a mini empire.”