Singapore's cup of bubble tea runneth over. The parent company behind popular brand Gong Cha said the chain is returning in the next several months in a "bigger, better, upgraded format".
"We just want to make clear to our Singapore customers that we are not leaving the market and we plan to come back pretty soon," said Mr Kim Soomin, a partner at Japanese private equity firm Unison Capital, in an interview with The Straits Times.
Unison Capital co-owns the Gong Cha brand with Royal Tea Taiwan, its founder.
"Together with Korea and Taiwan, Singapore is one of the most strategically important and successful markets for Gong Cha's growth, so there's no way we want to leave," said Mr Kim.
He added that the company has not set a target for the number of outlets it plans to open by the end of the year. "As many as we can. We are not in a rush to grow in terms of quantity."
The announcement comes after the conversion of all 80 Gong Cha stores here to LiHo outlets.
The move was completed on Monday by RTG Holdings, which brought Gong Cha here in 2009 and expanded it islandwide.
Just before the conversion, the Gong Cha Singapore outlets were raking in about $30 million in annual revenue, making the country one of the top three contributors to the brand's overall turnover, which stood at over US$70 million (S$97 million) last year. Including the outlets here, there were about 1,400 Gong Cha outlets worldwide.
RTG managing director Rodney Tang decided to leave the Gong Cha franchise and launch LiHo when he learnt that Royal Tea Taiwan had been sold to Unison Capital without his knowledge.
He had also found the terms for renewing his Gong Cha franchising licence more restrictive, with clauses that would have affected his ability to manage RTG's other brands effectively. RTG also runs Nene Chicken, Korean barbecue chain Bornga and Paik's Bibim.
Mr Tang told The Straits Times yesterday he was glad to hear that Gong Cha would be returning to Singapore. "The brand has a special place in the hearts of Singaporeans and I wish them all the best, making it as big as we did in the last eight years."
Mr Kim said: "We had a tremendous relationship with Rodney. It's sad that things didn't work out and we had to terminate that relationship, but I think both parties have to move on. We are not here to compete with LiHo."
Unison Capital and Royal Tea Taiwan are still in talks with potential partners in Singapore and they have not yet decided whether Gong Cha will return as a franchise again or be directly owned.
"We've had multiple enquiries since the news broke, from... individuals to food and beverage companies that already have business operations in Singapore and some financial investors too," Mr Kim said. Whatever the business model, he added, the brand will be focused on what customers want.
"On top of our Singapore experience, we are also operating in Korea, Taiwan and Japan, so we have accumulated a lot of experience and know-how," he said.
"So next, I think it's time to bring new colour to the Singapore market, for example, by introducing a more modern look to our stores and logo and a new menu... for Singapore customers."