Yao Ming-wei Brings New Life to an Old Building／找到老房子的靈魂，城市推手姚銘偉的咖啡店願景
Yao Ming-wei Brings New Life to an Old Building
◎English translation: Peng Hsin-yi
◎Photos by Chang Mian-mian, Tomoaki Kuramoto
Hamasen, a district, is situated right next to the Port of Kaohsiung. It was previously a landfill. In Taisho 9 (1920), after eight years of arduous work, it was transformed. Back in those days, Japanese businessmen would leave the train station and head over to Shinhamachou Yichichomei where "Hifumitei Ryotei" was located. Hifumitei Ryotei managed to weather the air raids in WWII and government campaigns to demolish old neighborhoods. In 2014, Hifumitei Ryotei still continues to operate on the second floor of what is now over a century-old building, near the Mass Rapid Transit station on Guyuan Street.
In 2012, Mr. Yao Ming-wei, former owner of Hifumitei Ryotei, found out this building was up for demolition. Teaming up with the Takao Renaissance Association, he rallied the local residents to protest. It was then that Mr. Yao found a new purpose for the building and opened a coffee house. In September 2015, it was finally confirmed the building was not going to be turned into a parking lot. He then sold the business to his old schoolmate and owner of Apartment Cafe.
Before he ran a coffee shop, Mr. Yao was a teacher of an afterschool program. Although, from the outside, it appears that Mr. Yao made a really drastic jump in becoming a coffee house owner; however, he did in fact graduate from the National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism and went on to earn an MBA in Switzerland. Combined with his passion for literature and history, he brings a unique aesthetic. He was indeed the perfect person to breathe new life into Hifumitei Ryotei.
The two most important decisions he made when he first opened the coffee shop were to restore the building to its original architecture and remove the ceiling to expose the original wooden beams. He believed these elements would be essential in bringing out the building's true character. "I also put my collection of old photos on display, which I feel depicts the local history," Mr. Yao explains. In English, the name can be translated as, "Bookstore Cafe". "Hamasen was a college town and therefore it should have a proper bookstore". Mr. Yao then installed bookshelves along the walls and filled them with books from his own collection and books donated from local publishing houses. This he feels was the very essence of what he had envisioned for his coffee shop.
Periodically, he holds seminars. A variety of speakers have been through. This he feels reflects the coffee shop's roots, where historically young people would gather to exchange ideologies or even discuss revolution. "I love it; everyone can come here to share ideas." Mr. Yao certainly created a truly unique coffee shop whilst he was its owner.
Since Hamasen is a tourist destination, busy times can fluctuate from day to day. Guyuan Street is a quiet street with very little traffic. Mr. Yao had to use a variety of social media sites in order to let people know about his coffee shop. One week before the grand opening, Mr. Yao held a "Philosophy Friday" seminar that he advertised on the coffee shop's Facebook. The event drew a full house and successfully introduced customers to his charming new space. After that they just kept coming back.
"In the past, the secret to a coffee shop's success was, 'location, location, location,' but now it is more important to be unique". These days, it is considered rather chic to remodel old houses. Mr. Yao believes it is important to maintain the building's essence and unveil its unique history. By doing this, each old house will have its own unique story to share with visitors.
Other coffee shops also have unique atmosphere in Kaohsiung including Hsiaoti Cafe, Apartment Cafe and Cafe Strada, which provide a homey and relaxed environment. Mr. Yao advises that in order to run a coffee shop, the owner must first have a clear, unique vision, which contributes to positive change. He feels his business has cultivated a distinct culture in Kaohsiung while still attracting tourists. He believes his coffee shop is very refined and reflects the very essence of this vigorous city.