In its 53 years, Golden Palace has become an Ottawa institution and third-generation owner Bill Kwong has innovative plans to expand the restaurant’s reach. That includes capitalizing on its reputation as having the best egg rolls in the city – and possibly anywhere.
When Mr. Kwong took over the restaurant three years ago, he decided to get his egg rolls into a place where many new customers could access them: Scotiabank Place.
Mr. Kwong approached the home of the Ottawa Senators at the same time the hockey club was planning a menu expansion to include Asian food, which it hadn’t sold before. When it came time to decide what local vendor would be the best fit, it was an easy decision, says Geoff Publow, director of strategic development for the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club.
In September 2011, after negotiating a three-year agreement for Golden Palace egg rolls to be sold in Scotiabank Place concession stands, sales went through the roof.
“It ended up probably being the best product launch we’ve ever had,” Mr. Publow says. “We were just blown away by the demand for the product.”
In the 2011-12 hockey season, hockey fans bought 70,000 egg rolls. That’s about 1,500 per game. It meant Mr. Kwong’s estimate of selling between 1,000 to 2,000 egg rolls a night was dead on, even though Mr. Publow’s initial estimate was much more modest.
ON A ROLL
Not only has the Scotiabank Place agreement brought new business for the restaurant – keeping six women busy making egg rolls from 3 a.m. until 10 a.m. each day – it has also helped Golden Palace access a new demographic.
Previously, most customers were older couples and families.
“We see a lot of younger clients now,” says Yuen-Ping Lee, the restaurant’s manager. “The young ones, they’ve never heard of our restaurant. But if they go to a hockey game, they find out, and they taste the egg rolls. They like it and they come over. We’ve increased our business.”
Soon after the Scotiabank Place agreement, Mr. Kwong negotiated a deal to become the official egg roll of the Ottawa 67’s and sell at the Ottawa Civic Centre as well.
Both locations are serviced by food services company Aramark, which declined to comment for this story. But Mr. Kwong says the agreements could pave the way for expansions into additional facilities.
“There’s always the possibility,” he says. “I think this is just a stepping stone into maybe more ventures in the future.”
Selling egg rolls at other venues wouldn’t threaten the Scotiabank Place agreement, Mr. Publow says, adding that he’d like to extend the contract in the future.
“We would view any growth in the Golden Palace brand as good for them and good for us,” he says.
While there are no plans to open a second Ottawa location, there’s plenty of demand for Golden Palace egg rolls out of town, particularly in Toronto and Seattle. Before Christmas, someone from Seattle purchased six dozen egg rolls to be shipped overnight. Almost daily, large orders in the thousands are placed by Toronto customers, Mr. Kwong says.
These customers didn’t come from a large advertising budget. In fact, the only marketing Mr. Kwong has done since taking over the restaurant is developing a website for customers to view the menu and read updates.
Golden Palace’s success is a testament to the power of word of mouth. And while many other Chinese restaurants crowd the Ottawa market, it’s the consistency of the food and the top-secret egg roll recipe that keeps Golden Palace on top, Mr. Kwong says.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD EGG ROLL?
The family recipe used by Golden Palace is more than 60 years old and relies on many fresh ingredients including pork, celery, cabbage, onion and bean sprouts. Many of those vegetables are bought from local vendors, owner Bill Kwong says. The crunchy shell and burnt ends are the roll’s trademark.
The well-recognized product makes it an easy sell at Scotiabank Place, says Geoff Publow, director of strategic development for the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club, but there are other features that make it a perfect fit for hockey fans.
It’s easy to handle, you can carry it in one hand, it’s not too messy and it holds together well, Mr. Publow says.
For hockey fans, eating is part of the game-day experience. For concerts and special events, however, food sales depend on the size of the event and the demographics of the audience.
That’s why it’s good news the NHL lockout has ended and the Ottawa Senators are about to hit the ice for what’s left of the hockey season, Mr. Publow says.
“We’re anticipating seeing (egg roll) sales just as strong or stronger than last year,” he says.