A cosmopolitan city like London leaves its mark on its inhabitants, even long after they’ve left. When siblings Andreas and Katerina were studying in London, they took the chance to absorb what the city had to offer, including the multi-cultural food scene.
After coming across the popular Bao Soho in London, a Taiwanese-bao inspired restaurant, the siblings fell in love with the entire cross-cultural experience. The soft fluffy buns and unique fillings were unlike anything they had tried before in Nicosia. Coming from a foodie family with “a room full of recipe books” and a passion for cooking, Andreas & Katerina enjoyed it so much that they set out a long-term goal of bringing the concept back to Cyprus.
Filling the gap in Nicosia
While still at university in 2013, Andreas came up with the concept of a street food market where people could rent and set up pop-up stalls regularly. Partnering up with a friend, they set-up Fork Food Market. Andreas says: “As it is illegal to be a street vendor in Cyprus, we came up with the idea of Fork Food Market as we really wanted to introduce the concept of Bao Cyprus, and the only way to do that was to create a food festival and incorporate it as a stall.” With family support and help, Andreas and his friend would organise the food market events during their summer holidays to promote awareness for their new venture.
As a result, Fork Food Market became the first street food event in Nicosia that operated about a dozen pop-up events per year. A rudimentary concept of Bao Cyprus was introduced into the market in 2013 to test the waters with items sourced from their local Chinatown. They were starting to see some traction when Andreas’ friend decided to leave for further studies, leaving him alone to run the business. During this time, Katerina joined the business and helped propel Fork Food Market and Bao Cyprus by applying her background in Culinary Arts.
After a few years of experimenting with recipes, Katerina soon managed to develop their very own fluffy bao buns that were larger in size to hold more filling, similar to the ones they tried in London – and soon managed to take the production in-house without relying on external suppliers. They finally settled on four Asian-inspired renditions: braised pork, buttermilk fried chicken, aubergine and tempura mushroom with a myriad of matching condiments.
Taking Bao to new heights
With Fork Food Market established in the F&B scene in Nicosia and Katerina’s recipes getting positive feedback from their friends and family, the siblings put their new menu to the test by launching the now fully-fledged concept of Bao Cyprus as a pop-up stall in the market in 2016.
Their risk paid off, as the stall saw repeat customers, with many asking if the concept was available as a restaurant outside of the pop-up. The siblings soon realised that their hometown was receptive to this new type of cuisine. After a few more successful events, they were buoyed by the response from customers and soon, a plan to expand Fork Food Market to other cities and a brick-and-mortar restaurant for Bao Cyprus was in the works.
From Bao to your home
However, the pandemic struck in early 2020 and all street food pop-ups were shut down. After losing their source of income, the sibling took this downtime to regroup and plan their future concepts.
Katerina says: “Although the pandemic has resulted in us becoming ‘unemployed’ it was actually perfect timing as we had plans to open a few restaurants including Bao Cyprus. So, we are using all this downtime to plan and test our menus. Plus, we also launched a delivery service for Bao, so we are keeping busy!”
In December 2020, Bao Cyprus commenced its home delivery service and it was all hands on deck for the Pyrishi family. “Our first day of delivery was actually the highest number of boxes we’ve ever sold – even until today! And it was absolutely chaotic [laughs]. I was busy cooking in the kitchen, Andreas was ensuring all the elements required were included in the box, my little brother was washing all the dirty dishes and my sister (who helps me in the kitchen in general) was packing all the food into the boxes for delivery…
“Even my boyfriend was not spared! He had to help us deliver some of the food. But it was all worth it and good fun. We also got to spend quality time as a family while doing what we love,” Katerina says fondly as she reminisces about Bao Cyprus’ first delivery service.
Lessons with Bao Cyprus
It’s been about a month since they’ve started delivering and the learning curve has been steep. Being a small family run business, the siblings frequently struggle with manpower issues as they can only accept orders until 6pm to be able to prepare all the food in time. However in Cyprus, people rarely think about ordering in until it is dinner time itself, which is about 7.30pm onwards and that leads to missed potential orders. But it is an operational aspect that they are trying hard to improve upon.
Other lessons they’ve learnt include understanding how the psyche of a home delivery customer differs from people at their pop-up stall. “As Bao’s items require some form of assembly and heating up for the best eating experience, it puts some customers off from ordering from us as it’s not something they can just dig into,” says Andreas. To help customers along, Bao provides very detailed instructions on preparing the fillings and steaming the buns to ensure a uniform experience for every customer.
Despite difficulties faced, the siblings are persevering with Bao Cyprus because of a strong belief and passion for their product. Katerina adds: “We believe that our quality recipes speak for themselves and this is enforced by the reactions from customers who try our baos. Although it’s only been a month since we’ve started deliveries, we are working hard and learning new things every day.”
She continues, hopefully: “We are still planning to open up a restaurant where people can enjoy warm baos alongside signature cocktails. That is our goal, and we hope to move things forward as soon as the pandemic situation improves.”