On the court, in the boardroom, in his restaurants, Co-Founder of FAMACY and the FAMA Group Larry Tang is no stranger to hard graft. Once a semi-pro basketballer, Larry went from being a big hitter in the Asia Pacific Advertising to turning a crisis of conscience into a viable sustainable and organic food movement. Conscious Capitalism is the name of Larry’s game. And as far as building up Hong Kong’s clean eating scene, he’s no doubt our G.O.A.T.
So tell us your background – your origin story…
L: My work has always had something to do with technology. In Australia I was in IT, but my first job here in Hong Kong was project managing for a multimedia company and then I got into Advertising under the 4As (American Association for Advertising Agencies) for over 15 years. Everything I’ve done in Advertising was digital. I’ve started my own businesses too: a few agencies in events and PR, ran a club, and throughout those early years played semi-professional basketball.
L: I was always on the Client Servicing side of Advertising but I liked supporting the creative side. As Deputy General Manager for MRM and then APAC Managing Director for Digitas and Razorfish, I liked to get my hands dirty and support the teams but in the end I got so sick of the politics. The higher up I got, the more I was surrounded by the older style management, from a more traditional Advertising background – more caught up in the politics than doing the creative work. I also felt as though I’d run out of clients I wanted to help. The big brands just wanted to get people to spend more money. It was all about money and a bigger market share.
I’d had enough and wanted to do something that would help more start ups, particularly those involved in sustainability and organic products. So that’s when I set up my own agencies. I was traveling around the world, visiting farmer’s markets, shooting web episodes and still getting paid the same rates. So life was easy.
But then my Dad got sick with Stage 3 lung cancer. At the same time three of my basketball friends had cancer – all in their thirties, very athletic. One was a school teacher, didn’t smoke or drink and had kidney cancer. When I spoke to his family, it turned out he was eating McDonalds for every meal. He wanted to save money, he thought it tasted good. But even with chemotherapy, he died within three months.
With all this going on I decided to stop what I was doing and look into how I could help. I was in Australia at the time and found a Naturopathic Doctor who did an online consultation with me and asked for us to send in hair samples to his lab to better understand what supplements my Dad might need. As a naturopath, everything he did was very evidence based. That was a big eye opener for me. I thought I knew a lot, having been exposed to information online and in my line of work with all the travel. But when I looked further into it, the pharmaceutical industry and the history of chemotherapy, it shocked me. I did a deep dive, researched, read a lot of books, watched documentaries and talked to anyone I could in the medical and wellness field. My goal was to come up with a holistic wellness plan for my Dad. He was taking a combination of supplements, undergoing bioresonance treatment, seeing a Traditional Chinese Doctor, as well as the regular chemotherapy and radiotherapy. We changed his whole diet.
That must have affected you in a big way…
L: I was actually traumatised by all this information I was taking in. I didn’t want to eat anything. Everything seemed to cause cancer. I would only go to Grassroots Pantry to eat in Sai Ying Pun – but they’re vegan. I was eating the same truffle pasta every meal *laughs*. I wasn’t ready to go vegan. What about the grassfed meat? Sustainable seafood? There are so many things we can still eat that are clean. And surely there were other people like me? People that wanted to eat cleaner but weren’t ready to go plant-based.
In Sydney there was a shop in Bondi that was an organic store next to an organic cafe. I thought if I had a store on Fuk Sau Lane, I could drive traffic into a cafe and vice versa, they could shop whilst waiting for their table. I didn’t want to compete – just draw more traffic – like Sneaker Street in Mong Kok. That was our LOCOFAMA concept in 2013. The cafe turned into a restaurant because we were a bit out of the way and when people came all that way, they wanted a full meal. Then after eating they could go next door, buy our consciously sourced ingredients and go home to cook it. That was the idea. Saldy the shop didn’t really work out and that space ended up becoming more of a pop-up / gallery. Fast forward to 2022… Next year we plan to relaunch the shop.
We also opened SOHOFAMA at the PMQ in 2014. We wanted to do a slightly different concept with a more Hong Kong Chinese menu. Same philosophy: no MSG, no chicken powder, mostly organic dishes. Then in 2015 we launched SUPAFOOD which is the fast food version of LOCOFAMA and SOHOFAMA in Sheung Wan. Outside of our shop on Jervois Street we had a big graffiti mural that read:
“Food industry pays no attention to health.
Health industry pays no attention to food.WTF?”
That’s not just relevant to SUPAFOOD. That’s the reason why we’re doing everything we are with food. We’re trying to connect food and health. For some reason when you go to the conventional Western doctors they don’t talk enough about food and nutrition. Then when you go to a Michelin starred restaurant and pay upwards of US$200 per person, you assume they’re looking after your health. But they’re only looking after your palette.
Is there anything you wish more people knew about you?
L: Yes, for sure. Not only was I not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but my family comes from a very modest grass roots background. I grew up in public housing throughout my childhood. My father is a retired policeman and my mother worked in restaurants, taking on extra part time jobs at the vegetable wholesale markets and washing dishes to support my overseas education. My mum’s family came from Lei Cheng Uk temporary housing project, which was described by CNN as being an “inhumane” living environment (think one communal toilet shared by numerous households per floor, without a flush!), so you could say that we come from the ‘ghetto’ of Hong Kong. Actually Tammie’s family comes from that same neighbourhood too – but I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that this whole food revolution project is not just some feel-good charity side projects run by a privileged second-generation rich kid. I gave up a corporate job of HK$2 million annual salary and my own creative firm with HK$10M yearly revenue, determined to ensure that we all eat better, suffer less from illnesses, fight environmental degradation, and avoid any unnecessary harm to animals.
My heart, my soul is still very much in tech and digital advertising. I want people to know I am not actually a foodie. I’m not a chef. I don’t cook. The reason why I’m doing food is because I’m a big supporter of ‘conscious capitalism’. It’s not even really a term people use much anymore. Wholefoods, TOMS were a couple of the first to do this. If I have to condense the concept it’s that every dollar spent should be seen as a vote towards the future of that company. If everyone did this the world would be different. So every dollar is a vote and this applies to the food industry – we’re all voting at least three times a day. It’s because of this potential impact that I got into food.
People might see us as a restaurant group and for the sake of brand-building, yes we were to start off with so people could come in and experience it for themselves. But we’re transforming. FAMACY is an example of that change.
In 2019 we launched FAMA’s Kitchen, a cloud kitchen concept with one kitchen that was less than 2000 sq ft, but we cooked for 12 brands out of it. Half of these brands are ‘virtual’ – you won’t find them on the street. We save on cost, so we can lower our prices even more so it’s more affordable and accessible for every meal. We’ve also almost halved the per person spend at LOCOFAMA for example.
“We want more people to eat well more often, otherwise what’s the point?
We want impact.”
Eating with us once every three months will have no effect on your health. FAMA’s Kitchen has now opened its third location, delivering meals daily to our customers.
How about we talk about why you’ve set up FAMACY?
L: Well the “Why?” that led to the setup of FAMACY was very much the fact that the food and health industries pay no attention to each other. In comparison to other branches of the FAMA Group, FAMACY is the one where we consult Doctors, both Western and Chinese, Nutritionists, Dietitians, Personal Trainers to help develop our products. I partnered with Tammie because we needed her nutrition and scientific knowledge. I can’t do FAMACY without her – I’m a marketing guy. It’s very science and medical driven. When I look at the wellness industry and how we want to contribute to it, I don’t believe we will EVER have enough trained and certified medical professionals and specialists to properly look after everybody. Just look at China’s population: 1.4 billion people. How many medical professionals would we need? We’re way short. And we’ll always be short. So to me, it’s about raising the entry-level knowledge of everybody, and making that knowledge freely accessible. Everyone just needs to know a bit more about their own health and how to look after their own bodies. That’s why we are trying to raise awareness, a wellness 101 if you like, and why we developed the S.L.O.W. Eating 101 Starter Kit .
Sustainable to our planet? How is it packaged?
Locally grown? Is there a local alternative?
Organic? Does it have antibiotics? Growth hormones? Pesticides?
Wholesome? Is it good or bad for my well-being?
We also want to have meals that even people with chronic diseases could eat without thinking twice. That’s why we’re speaking to the likes of Miles Price who worked at LifeHub Clinic. LifeHub offers alternatives to what you get through standard public hospital care in Hong Kong. Miles focuses on Functional Medicine, particularly to do with cancer prevention. He is someone who would advise doctors on what their patients should eat. Miles often recommends keto, but not for the sake of losing weight. Patients need good fats too and without going too much into the details what we will offer will be the highest quality of our meals.
FAMACY is also intended to be a time-saver. Helping to curate packs of supplements, for example our Immunity Boosting & Maintenance Kit, to help fend off and strengthen protection from nasty viruses like Covid. We already have Tammie’s MYUMAMI MYUMAMI Plant-Based Sauce Set to stock up pantries and perhaps canned food. Tammie is also working on postnatal meals and customised menus for different needs. We’re also going to offer sous-vide machines and pre prepared sous-vide packs with meals prepared using premium ingredients with the highest nutritional value. I mean that’s how Michelin starred chefs cook – but people can do this themselves at home in their own kitchen.
Sounds like you’ve already got a lot on your plate – pun intended. Any plans for the future?
Well seeing as FAMACY is the pharmacy of the future… absolutely. We’re going to offer a home kitchen audit where a trained professional can come to your home, take a look at your pantry and refrigerator, removing harmful products and recommend what would be best for you and your family.
At FAMA we have a slogan: “EAT DIFFERENT”.
It only needs to be very small, little changes.
Everytime i speak in public I do a demo. I eat an apple upside down. Usually people eat an apple and are left with the core. It’s wasted. But if you eat it from the bottom up, you can eat the whole thing and you’re only left with the stem. As if by magic.
Sounds like something we should all try for ourselves. Alright, to round this off, if you were to host a dinner party, who would you have as guests at your table and what would you feed them?
Bruce Lee. I want to tell you about my Bruce Lee. Everyone thinks of him as a martial artist – but to me it’s about his philosophy – the philosopher that he was. You’ve heard of Jeet Kune Do right? It literally means ‘the way of the intercepting fist‘. Their philosophy “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own”, that is my attitude towards everything I do. Why spend time doing something that’s already been done by someone else? Go online, do all the research you can, take it. Don’t let people tell you you are copying them because you aren’t. Take whatever is useful and whatever’s useless to your case, discard it. Then it’s already become something else. Once you’ve added what is uniquely your own it’s become something new.
I’d also really like to know what diet he was on! From Hong Kong too. What a great legacy to leave behind. You asked me what I’d like to be remembered for – well in Bruce Lee’s case, he is immortal. I don’t think I’m vain enough to want to be remembered in 100 years’ time. For me it’s more about what contribution I can make. As long as that impact lasts and changes things for future generations, then I’ll be happy.
Then there’s Jesus. I wonder what he ate at his last supper? They would be the worst customers at a restaurant: “We want a long table and then we’re all going to sit on one side of it…”*laughs* My Mum is a very devoted Christian. I grew up in a Christian household, but after I graduated from university I became more of an atheist (agnostic?). I’m very curious, so I looked into Judaism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism… and I could just see that everyone wants love. The most universal truth that I could gather from all these religions was to do to others as you would have them do to you, and on the flip side don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself. Which is why our FAMA Group slogan is “Feed unto others as you would have others feed to you.” That’s our religion. I don’t sell anything I won’t eat. Later on, I went full circle. These past few years have been crazy. I used to think I had a plan, but as it turns out, you can’t plan s@*t. I started praying. At first it was because it made my Mum happy. Then I found that there was a connection somewhere. A familiarity. If you think about it, I’ve known him since I was a six year old kid.
Now what would I serve them? That’s the hardest question. Remember I don’t cook, but how about an overall concept? We call it ‘Farm to Chopsticks’. I’d plan the meal three to six months in advance with a team of our chefs, consult Chinese Doctors and Nutritionist Chefs like Tammie, local farmers: hydroponic farmers for herbs, permaculture farmers, seafood, meat farmers. We’d come together a season ahead to plan what we’d eat and then grow, harvest and cook it. That way, the farmers can grow what might not be available three months later in the market. Each ingredient would be deliberately chosen for their nutritional value. Farmers don’t have to worry about selling their crop because it’s already sold to us. It changes everything.
Actually we’re planning a new permanent ‘Farm to Chopstick‘ restaurant in Wong Chuk Hang. We’ll issue a limited number of NFTs in advance and people can come in to sit, eat the meal that was grown and farmed especially for them in an innovative experiential space. The next step would be to get the whole community to pre order from them six months in advance. No need to wrap them in plastic, just a box of fresh ingredients delivered to you and your family.
Small steps, but leave an impression. When we can do that, we’ll have a much better world.