Bonnae Gokson is the owner and founder of Sevva, Ms B’s Cakery and C’est La B. She has received three awards for her book, Butterflies and All Things Sweet.
Why do you think your businesses are so successful?
I’m so grateful that all the brands I’ve created on my own are a success. I’m fortunate to have lived a very privileged life ever since childhood, and I believe this has put me in good stead in the business world.
I believe my success comes from my exposure to the very best things the world has to offer, coupled with the knowledge I’ve gleaned from my family, my work experience and my frequent travels abroad.
For me, running a business requires a hands-on approach in its day-to-day management, and this is why I have put a lot of effort into Sevva, from changing its aesthetic to deciding what food the guests will enjoy. I have always had the foresight, imagination and passion to create.
Sevva is a one-of-a-kind venue in Hong Kong because of the care and attention to detail I have put into it. It’s more than just a restaurant. It is a unique experience where guests can get pampered and enjoy a sensory overload of sorts. Of course, the amazing terrace atop one of Hong Kong’s most iconic buildings helps.
My cakery and C’est La B are separate businesses from Sevva. The store for Ms B’s Cakery in Prince’s Building is more of a gift, confectionery and cake shop, whereas C’est La B at Pacific Place is more of a casual cafe with lots of savoury snacks and sweets.
The one thing that is similar about all of my businesses, though, is that they are located in very unique venues that people enjoy, and this makes them come back for more.
To run a successful business, a person needs to know how to manage and they must have a vision, passion and drive to maintain quality and standards, all while injecting fresh ideas every so often.
What role does social media play in the promotion of your products and businesses?
I started using Instagram a few years back and I really enjoy it. There are lots of ways I use Instagram to help my businesses grow. In this day and age, social media is so important. We regularly release new products, and social media is a great way to build brand awareness.
I have separate pages on Facebook and Instagram for Sevva, Ms B’s Cakery, Ms B’s Weddings and C’est La B. And I also have my personal accounts.
You used to be Regional Chief of Image and Communications for Chanel Asia Pacific and you’re also lauded as a style icon. How important is fashion to you?
Let me put it this way: I believe that my sense of style comes from spending many years working alongside my mentor and sister, Joyce Ma. I would also credit it to being born into a family where my grandfather founded the most important department store back in the old days in Shanghai. I certainly have a strong retail and fashion heritage.
I also love the art, excitement and creativity of the fashion world as I, myself, am a very creative person.
“I’m at a wonderful time in my life. I have a lot of freedom and I still love what I do”
Who are your favourite designers? What are your go-to fashion items?
I have a number of favourite fashion pieces from couture, ready-to-wear and casual sportswear collections. Most designers have something I like in their collections. I like Zuhair Murad, Ralph Russo, Dries Van Noten, Balmain, Victoria Beckham, Norma Kamali, Rosie Assouline and more. I am also a fan of some younger emerging designers.
You’ve been dubbed the ‘Queen of Confectionary’ and were named one of the top 30 pastry chefs in the world in a book published by Thames + Hudson. How did it feel to be featured?
It was certainly a great honour to be recognised by such a wonderful publication. Around the same time that I was featured in the book, The New Pâtissiers, my coffee table book, Butterflies and All Things Sweet, won three top awards at the Paris Book Awards, the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards and the Sydney Design Awards in 2014. I was overjoyed when we won those awards because we’d worked so hard on the book.
What inspired you to write Butterflies and All Things Sweet?
The idea for Butterflies and All Things Sweet came about when I worked on Sundays creating our adverts, e-letters and photo shoots. Every time our images were sent out to the public, people would call us up to say how much they loved them.
Over time we built up a large collection of images and I thought it would be a good idea to compile them and put them into a book.
I am fortunate to have a few extremely talented friends who were editors-in-chief at top magazines in Australia. I worked with them to produce Butterflies and All Things Sweet.
Do you think a lot of pressure is put on female entrepreneurs in the business world?
Women entrepreneurs are now becoming stronger and more powerful in the business world. Women will always face challenges, but I think if you look around and see the changes happening in the world you will see things are moving forward.
As for myself, I am the decision maker for most aspects of my businesses. I have to be stern and focused in order to make the best decisions. Yet, I believe in maintaining my femininity, poise and intelligence, so you tell me if you think there’s any pressure!
What’s an average week for you?
My weeks vary quite a bit. I work out at home twice a week in the morning with a fitness trainer. I attend meetings throughout the week with various teams to plan upcoming events. I meet with chefs to go over new menus and meet with my cakery team to discuss bespoke cake orders.
I sometimes have meetings with the media and I’m occasionally asked to give interviews on TV or radio programmes.
Sometimes on Sundays I work with a photographer to snap new shots of my work, and sometimes I go to the graphic studio to design new packaging or adverts.
During the past few months a number of people have asked to collaborate with me and I am sometimes contacted by luxury brands to create something for them, which means I have to attend meetings for these projects.
Your cake names at Ms B’s Cakery are quite unique. Do you come up with the names yourself?
Yes, I come up with all the names of our cakes and I choose the flavours and ingredients. Choosing names for the cakes is fun. Sometimes I’ll brainstorm ideas with a good friend who’s humourous and we will have a laugh thinking of names. And sometimes I name them after famous operas like Madama Butterfly or come up with something daring like ‘Better Than Sex’.
We have just finished a week of new developments and we mistakenly made a cake with the wrong ingredients, but it ended up tasting delicious so we called it ‘Ooops!’
“Women entrepreneurs are now becoming stronger and more powerful in the business world”
Are you ever concerned people in Hong Kong will copy your cake ideas?
Copycats are everywhere in Hong Kong. I wonder why so many people choose to copy my ideas instead of coming up with their own designs. It is obvious people steal my ideas – our distinctive striped cake cards, our cake designs, the names of cakes, sugar art and more – from the internet, which is a joke and shows that some people have no shame. But what can I say except ‘thank you.’ I guess people who understand quality will know the difference.
What are your favourite restaurants in the city?
I have quite a few favourite restaurants that I keep going back to, such as Gou Fu Lou for dim sum, Arcane on On Lan Street, Pang’s in Happy Valley, Liu Yuan Pavilion in Wan Chai, Mak’s Noodles on Wing Kut Street, Ho Lee Fook on Elgin Street and, of course, Sevva!
To me, going to a place that serves good food is more important than going to a place because it is seen as trendy or hip. I also love taking friends who are visiting the city to new restaurants.
You’re also known for your healthy lifestyle. How do you stay fit?
I believe that ‘health is wealth.’ I like to take care of myself, which is important because I have such a hectic lifestyle.
I enjoy nothing better than a good hike followed by a session with exercise training bands. I love working up a good sweat with my trainer in the country parks near my home.
I have also been an advocate of holistic naturopathy and anthroposophical medicine for years and I have a wonderful doctor in Australia who helps to keep me fit and healthy.
How do you relax and unwind?
I travel on short trips around Asia to visit friends. When I’m not travelling, I love to explore the streets of Sham Shui Po and the flower markets in Kowloon. There’s always something new there to awaken my senses.
I’m a big fan of the cinema and I also like to go yachting with friends or go on a good hike.
What advice would you give any budding tastemakers or entrepreneurs?
Embrace what makes you different. Success is tied to passion; it is not materialistic. Passion is your greatest ally, and don’t be afraid to challenge social conventions.
What project are you planning to take on next?
I’m at a wonderful time in my life. I have a lot of freedom and I still love what I do. Some people have suggested that I open my own signature chain of boutique hotels, and actually this is being discussed at present.
I am open to getting involved with exciting new projects and ideas. I have said ‘no’ to many offers in the past, but who knows what might happen in the future. I don’t focus too much on the future as I like to live in the moment. As they say, que sera sera.
Text: Andrew Scott