The nation’s insatiable appetite for Chinese food has meant that Woon Wing Yip – the man who founded the biggest Chinese grocery group in the country – has continued to buck the economic trend.
The business, run by Wing Yip’s nephew Henry Yap, is expanding on land next to its Nechells headquarters to boost its distribution operation, and has acquired land for outlets in Nottingham and Cardiff, adding to existing premises in Manchester, Croydon and Cricklewood.
The company is also expanding its traditional Chinese food offering into a pan-Asian concept, covering the cuisine of Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Wing Yip was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s honours.
The business has also won a Birmingham Post Enterprise Award and last year Wing Yip was awarded an honorary doctorate from Birmingham University. He received the honour for his contribution to the city, but it’s an award he will be delighted with, as he believes strongly in education.
So much so that Professor Xin Sheng Zhau is a Wing Yip China Fellow in chemical biology at Churchill College Cambridge, underlining Woon Wing Yip’s commitment to education, and to seeing young people fulfil their potential.
He has also handed out hundreds of bursaries over the last 10 years to youngsters of Chinese descent to help them complete their education in the UK.
Woon Wing Yip well understands the value of education. It was his ability to speak English when he came to the UK from Hong Kong 50 years ago that meant he could move up the ladder in business.
He is proud of the fact that his four children – Albert, Brian, Cindy and David – were all able to have a good education, thanks to their father’s success. All his children work in the business with the exception of Cindy who works for a television company in Hong Kong.
Woon Wing Yip, who is 71, arrived in the UK by boat from Hong Kong in 1959. He opened a restaurant in a former tea shop in Clacton-on-Sea and went on to open three more restaurants and two takeaways in East Anglia.
His first Chinese grocers shop opened in Digbeth, Birmingham in 1970, employing just 10 people.Now his food empire turns over more than £90 million a year.
As well as selling Wing Yip branded products in his own supermarkets, they are also sold through national chains including Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose.
The Wing Yip business has also branched out into property development, management and investment, with more than 60 commercial and residential tenants around the country.
Woon Wing Yip always remembers that it was Birmingham where his supermarket business began, and in gratitude he donated a 40 foot high granite hand-carved pagoda to the city which stands near the Chinese quarter in Holloway Head.
He also established the Wing Yip Charitable Trust, topped up by annual donations from the Wing Yip business, which supports the Prince’s Trust and also gives money to educational, poverty relief and sickness charities.