Creating a Sweet Monopoly with Wil Fang, Founder of Cookie DPT
August 22, 2022
You know the cookies, but you may not know the face behind Hong Kong’s sugary, crunchy, and delectable monopoly on the treats business: the four-years-young Cookie DPT headed by New Yorker-by-birth, Hong Konger-by-heart, Wil Fang.
The sweet story of Cookie DPT’s existence and the former retail executive behind the venture is one of nostalgia, a need to disrupt a local industry, and the success of Instagram.
Wil's freshly baked American home-style crispy and chewy cookies saw the brand break ground on Cookie DPT’s first physical flagship store in February 2022, selling its famed cookies, bagels, and breakfast plates to locals’ mouths directly.
An evident lover of all things Hong Kong, Wil has lived Kowloon side since his arrival to Hong Kong in 2009. “I like it here,” the cookie mogul tells The Beat Asia in an interview at Carbon, Wil's signature lifestyle venue in H Code. “There’s a lot more to discover on Kowloon side than Hong Kong Island, so many interesting places.”
The American-born-Chinese Hong Konger sought an escape as a 26-year-old to the city, emigrating temporarily to the harbour city on a 5-month-long assignment with Ralph Lauren to set up a Hong Kong office for the international fashion company.
After an offer was made to employ him for two years in the Kowloon office, Wil extended his time in the city working for the clothes giant. A position to work with Apple’s retail arm in Shanghai brought him north for two years, before moving to Taipei in 2016 to open the first iteration of Cookie DPT in the Taiwanese capital, a small coffee shop existing within a larger project ideated by Wil.
With two Hong Kong friends, Wil sought to build a dedicated flagship multi-brand lifestyle and retail space in central Taipei importing western fashion brands, called Department (DPT), “a play on the original department store of Macy’s, Saks, and Bloomingdales,” true to its basic principles, but capturing a modern take on the format.
As part of the creative retail space, Wil housed a dedicated treats and coffee shop called Coffee DPT that sold two home-made cookies to visitors to Department. When he parted with his original investors and closed Department in 2018, his standing Coffee DPT concept saw potential with a Taiwanese and Hong Kong fan fervour for Wil's home-baked cookies.
His investors sold the standalone cookie-cum-café space to Wil in 2018, relocating to the popular Eastern District shopping haven in Taipei. The move from retail and fashion to food and beverage was a sensible decision for Wil, an aficionado of sweet treats and quick turnover.
“My passion was F&B, that instant gratification. [In fashion], you buy pieces nine months in advance, you wait for inventory to come, sell it, and don’t see your customer or the enjoyment until much after. But cookies and food, the enjoyment is present.”
Commuting from Taipei to Hong Kong weekly, Wil not only saw Taipei residents flock to the café to purchase DPT cookies, with flavours including vanilla, brownie, chocolate chip, peanut butter, but too with Hong Kong friends eager to taste his success. “Travelling to Taipei for Coffee DPT, people would constantly ask for cookies to bring back to Hong Kong. I realised there was a market for friends and friends of friends.”
Wil made an Instagram account in April 2018, took photos of his sugar-loaded products in his living room, and rebranded as Cookie DPT. “The rest is history for now,” Wil comments.
The cookie mogul cites two reasons for creating Cookie DPT in Hong Kong: nostalgia of an American childhood and lack of freshly baked cookies in the city.
“In 2018, Hong Kong did not have a cookie like yours. Ms. Fields’ is flat, sugary, and gets you that cookie fix. Subway ‘freshly baked’ cookies are pretty cheap value wise. Typically, a cookie in Hong Kong was not a thing. Every now and then people ate one.”
At Ralph Lauren, Wil assumed a night-time chef position cooking home-made cookies for his team of international staff. Supply was high with his colleagues, hungry for double chocolate chip, oatmeal raisins, peanut butter cookies, due to a creeping childhood nostalgic demand of the “Americana cookie,” omnipresent in homes across the world.
Wil spent Q2 and Q3 of 2018 drumming up support for the brand on his Instagram page and fulfilling private and catering orders. A big break came in his sugary business with a debut at the Wine & Dine Festival in October 2018 at Central Harbourfront.
For the four-day F&B event, Wil sold home-made chocolate chip, double chocolate, oatmeal raisin, white chocolate, and macadamia nut cookies to festival attendants, recipes inspired by the great New York bakeries such as Magnolia, Chip, Levain, and Dominique Ansel.
“Our cookies were very much café and bakery quality, with a juiced cookie texture. The size was comparable with a truly homemade cookie. It was more Instagrammable and had more value to it.”
“We had predicted a forecast for how many cookies we would sell over the four days. On the Friday afternoon, the second day of the event, within two hours we had sold our entire stock for the whole weekend. We realised we better make some more cookies!"
“I had no idea what to expect [at the festival]. I had never run an F&B outlet in Hong Kong before, even a pop-up, so I learned a lot.”
A second big break came in windfall for Wil with a pop-up bakery station, measuring 60 square feet in size, in Landmark Mall in Central. A friend initially propositioned Wil, the one-man team responsible for both front and back end of Cookie DPT, to set up a stand for two months selling the Instagram-famous cookies.
With no marketing budget and staff assisting with baking, Wil opened on a Thursday, and found himself unluckily lucky again. “We sold out in an hour. It seems that I am terrible at forecasting! (laughs). Every day, we sold out within a few hours. Every day we knew to make more cookies, but we just kept selling out and then, of course, more and more people started hearing about it. We just could not keep our cookies in stock!”
“I would not have traded that experience for the world, it was an amazing feeling.”
Following the success of his Landmark pop-up, Wil brought Cookie DPT to The Upper House, K-11 Musea, Base Hall, a return to Landmark, and opened wholesale accounts to supply cookies to Hong Kong’s beloved cafes Winstons, Ralphs Coffee, and Muchali.
Wil's story with Cookie DPT took to new heights on February 13, 2022, with the opening of the brand’s first official brick and mortar shop, championing a new slogan for the year “more than just a cookie,” with ties to the aforementioned nostalgic feel of the American cookie, a gap in the market, and recreating New York magic in Hong Kong.
On the steps of Cochrane Street in Soho, bright white lights flood the underside of the Central-Mid Levels escalators which shadow the flagship store. Wil worked with local architecture studio Beams Creative to realise a modern, minimalist and Instagrammable space, fitted with trendy seating and a central glass counter for easy access to Cookie DPT exclusive baked goods. An audio system belts out '90s to 2010s rap and pop music all day, with greenery filling the space with warmth and life.
“A lot of what we created at Cookie DPT is from the nostalgia and missing elements in Hong Kong. We do the best New York style bagel in the city, we sell a classic tuna melt, our version as truly American; we sell American style breakfast, pancakes, chicken sandwiches, homestyle biscuit sandwiches. In some vein we are the Cheesecake Factory of Hong Kong, we not only do cookies, but are synonymous for great food, American-style treats and plates.”
Wil says, “we definitely think about and cater to the western market for that nostalgia of cookies and snacks,” but an emphasis on marketing is also placed on a local Hong Kong customer base. "We wouldn't be successful at Cookie DPT, if we weren't able to appeal to both sides.”
"A lot of our concepts and offerings are not just American, but very international. We're definitely American focused, but even our cookies take inspiration from different bakeries, cafes and things I've gone to in Europe, Southeast Asia, and North America.”
"I have a lot of pride [in Cookie DPT] because I'm from the U.S. Most of my ideas come from that nostalgia and the need to satisfy an urge, a craving for something. The really fun part about having your own cafe or bakery is you can just make it! (laughs)”
Collaborations with other name-brand F&B venues and friends of Wil is a cornerstone to the creativity of Cookie DPT, presenting to the Hong Kong market that they are “more than just a cookie.”
Cookie DPT have created savoury Italiano-inspired Pici cookies, Earl Gray ganache cookies with tipsy pigs, a chocolate cookie imperial stout with Young Master, charcoal peanut butter cookies with Yardbird, Yo Mama Frozen Yoghurt-infused cookies, and brought a Baileys Chocolate Cupcake and Brownie to market for the sweet tooths.
"We can flex sort of our creativity and show our more interesting side. Collaborating brands gives us a lot of freedom to do things that we maybe wouldn't normally be able to do as a cookie brand or thing that are not on brand.”
Wil jokes to The Beat Asia that Cookie DPT will never develop into a Supreme – multifold in their braveness to collaborate with anyone and everyone – but admits that “we can be creative and develop something for a brand or with a brand that adds to both sides.”
Ending our interview with an optimistic future for the direction of Cookie DPT and Hong Kong, Wil is determined to grow his cookie empire. “We definitely want to create more physical locations [in Hong Kong], in Asia, and Europe.”
“I want to create a little bit more intimacy with the brand. Cookie DPT has been quite popular with our flagship brick and mortar, where you can come in, sit down and be part of our community. I want to create a little bit more of that.”
“It doesn't mean that every store opening will have everything that we have at the flagship. Our store has been a really fun testing ground, almost a little lab, to be able to experiment and launch cookies that I love, and I think is missing.”
Wil admits “nothing is set in stone,” but how can the rest of the world not love Cookie DPT’s stunning sweet selection.
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