Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Wil Fang of Cookie DPT
“In a city like Hong Kong where there is so much competition and ever-changing trends, it is so important to always push your boundaries and continue evolving. If you are just satisfied with the progress, you have made today, even for a minute, a day, a week or even a month, you could fall behind.”
Founder of Cookie DPT
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?
I’m Wil and I am the Founder of Cookie DPT. We make freshly home baked style cookies using premium imported ingredients.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I’m originally from the States and I grew up in New England, a small town in New Hampshire. I went to school in Pennsylvania, in which I studied Engineering and Business Management, and then eventually moved to New York, where I call home.
What inspired you to move to Asia/Hong Kong?
I was actually on a 5-month work assignment in Hong Kong for Ralph Lauren, the company I worked for at the time. After my 5 months was up, I knew I wanted to stay longer in Asia so I decided to quit my job permanently and was presented the opportunity to work in Shanghai for Apple so I took it.
We noticed that you studied in Mechanical Engineering and Business Management, and then worked at Ralph Lauren for 10 years and 2 years at Apple before getting into the F&B/retail space. How has this journey led you to where you are now?
After 12 years of working in the corporate world, I realised that my passion still lied in fashion so I left my job at Apple and then moved to Taipei to start my own retail agency and concept store with two other friends who were from Hong Kong. For the retail concept, we wanted to build our own flagship multi-brand lifestyle and retail store where we could bring over high-end American and Western European brands like Thom Browne, Maison Kitsuné, John Elliott, and Saturdays NYC over to Taipei. We named it Department (DPT), and connected to it was a little café that we launched called Coffee DPT. At the time, we were thinking of what food we could make for our guests and since I wanted to introduce home-baked goods to our customers, we started stocking cookies that I baked right in our café. It was well-received and people from all over Taipei would come to the store just to buy our cookies. At the time, I would always fly between Taipei and Hong Kong to visit my friends and would bring some back to them. With such a positive response from friends, I decided to create an Instagram account so people could easily order the cookies, and that was how Cookie DPT was born.
What inspired you to create Cookie DPT?
Growing up in the States, it was very common to just bake cookies at home, and whenever you go to a friend’s house after football or basketball practice, your friend’s family would serve you home-made cookies. Then later when I moved to New York, I would always try different baked goods from various bakeries and delis that had their own cookies and cakes. I’ve got a crazy sweet tooth and moving to Hong Kong; I just couldn’t find any shops that offered these kinds of sweets that reminded me of home so I started baking and experimenting with all the different variations using inspiration from my favourite childhood bakeries. I even bought a little countertop oven and would always bake for friends and colleagues! That said, I have been developing various recipes for the better part of a decade, in search of the perfect cookie in Hong Kong that kept falling short!
How does a day in the life of Mr. Wil Fang look like on a typical work day?
I am sure everyone says every day is different, but literally every day is wildly different from the next. If I clump all the different days together, I would say that my day starts off later than most people – at around 10AM since I work quite late. Typically, I like to start my mornings with coffee so I will try out different coffee shops to show support for various local businesses in the community. After that, I’ll attend some work meetings before lunch. I actually work from Soho House quite frequently as I’m able to work in a space with so many friends across the creative industry and learn more about their businesses, which inspires and motivates me as well. I’ll also squeeze in a workout at the gym while I am there!
I also work very closely with my kitchen team, which is the heart and soul of what I’m doing right now. So, for a few days a week, I’ll spend time in the kitchen where we bring to life our cookie ideas. I would bounce ideas off of my kitchen staff and then we would actually bake it and try it out to see whether a recipe will work or not. If not, we’ll have to go back to the drawing board and fine tune our ideas.
What does “Urban Explorer” mean to you and how do you think you fit into this term?
I consider myself an urban explorer because I have always loved travelling. Growing up in such a small town, every chance I got, my parents would take me somewhere – whether it would be down to Miami to visit relatives or to China and Taiwan for a holiday. When I first came to Hong Kong on a work assignment, I knew I had a finite period of time before moving back to New York so I would make the most of it with my colleagues and explore different areas of the city and travel all across Asia. I believe that this mentality of constantly exploring is what stuck with me, and even now I really enjoy walking around different neighbourhoods and finding little local restaurants to try.
A Bite of Success
Can you tell us how you develop a new flavour at Cookie DPT, from ideation to baking and taste testing it before it reaches your store?
It’s hard to believe that Cookie DPT is approaching our 3-year anniversary in Hong Kong, and just the other day I was counting up how many recipes we have created, and we have developed over 100 flavours over the course of three years! We constantly try to push our boundaries and the palates of our customers, so that is why we come out with so many unique flavours and offerings. I also get inspired every time I explore a new city. I would visit these little mom and pop shops that would master a particular dish or cuisine really well, and I would try to replicate these unique flavours at home while I am cooking or baking. I recall trying this incredible tiramisu dessert at this quaint little restaurant in Italy and I loved it so much that we ended up creating a Tiramisu cookie at Cookie DPT that paid homage to it.
Is there anyone in particular that you go to first as your “guinea pig” when it comes to tasting your latest creations?
Most of the people that try our creations first are generally the people that have supported us since Day 1, like our friends, various foodies and influencers in the community that really enjoy our cookies and will give us honest feedback about our latest creations.
What is your favourite flavour?
My favourite is the classic chocolate chip cookie! There is just something about the combination of chocolate and cookie dough that fits perfectly together.
Do you find there is a difference between what customers like in Hong Kong, in terms of the flavours and textures of a cookie, versus what friends in the US like? If so, how have you adapted your cookies to fit the palate of Hong Kong consumers?
Everyone will have their own preference of what they like, but we have not changed the core of our cookies to adapt to the local palate because then it wouldn’t be the kind of cookie I grew up with or more importantly, it would lose the essence of our brand – which is the American home-baked style. That said, a lot of the different flavours we create draw from my own experiences and tastes, and being in Asia has really opened up my palate to many unique dishes like the classic Pineapple Bun, which we have created a cookie that honours this classic Hong Kong staple. When it came to baking the Pineapple Bun cookie, my team and I easily tried over 50 different pineapple buns to find out what we liked about each one and incorporate them into one cookie. We enjoy creating these unique flavours for our customers and at the end of the day, we know that we are not going to be everybody’s cookie but we want to stay true to who we are.
What is most challenging about being an entrepreneur?
For me, it is continuously trying to innovate the way of running our business or coming up with offerings that will satisfy our customers. In a city like Hong Kong where there is so much competition and ever-changing trends, it is so important to always push your boundaries and continue evolving. If you are just satisfied with the progress, you have made today, even for a minute, a day, a week or even a month, you could fall behind. That’s the pressure you feel as an entrepreneur. Like, what’s next?
That said, we’ve worked with a spectrum of brands, like various luxury or street-wear brands, to create something unique for our customers but what we’re really focusing on this year is working with other local F&B brands to support the local community. Many businesses have been hit hard due to the pandemic, especially independent brands and local businesses, so we appreciate that we’re in a place where we can promote that local ownership and support each other.
Do you have any tips for any aspiring entrepreneurs?
For someone who has an idea or a passion that they would like to pursue, I think the best thing you can do when you are starting your business is to just ask for help. More often than not, we have the ego of wanting to do everything on our own or we’re embarrassed to ask for assistance, but it really helps you in the long run. From my own personal experience, I would not have been able to grow Cookie DPT to what it is today had I attempted to do it all myself. My best advice for anyone who is looking to start their own business is to not be too proud to ask, or even beg for help if you need it.
What destinations are on your bucket list?
I have never been to Africa, like as a continent. I have embarked on a lot of city explorations but I would love to explore more of the outdoors and nature. Another place I would like to visit someday is South America.
Given the existing circumstances, what do you do to explore now that traveling is not permitted?
There are actually so many things to do and see right here in Hong Kong. You can go on many different scenic hikes in the city, aside from Dragon’s Back, like visiting Ham Tin Wan in Sai Kung. I also enjoy exploring different neighbourhoods because each one is so unique and every street has its own shops and restaurants. For me, I really enjoy following the MTR line by feet, walking from one district to the next to see what I might find. There’s much more than Hong Kong Island, and living in the Kowloon side has allowed me to discover so many interesting places.
If you could live anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
I would want to be right here in Hong Kong. During the pandemic, I am just grateful that Cookie DPT can still thrive and for that reason alone, there is nowhere else I would rather be. And in terms of post-pandemic, I really believe that Hong Kong is an amazing place to live in, where there are so many Asian cities and cultures literally a close flight away. At the same time, I always have friends and family visiting me so it makes it feel like home. Hong Kong, in and of itself, has a very rich fusion of East meets West culture so being an Asian American living here I can really understand the culture.
In 3 words, how would you describe Hong Kong?
Fast-paced, Fickle, Opportunistic