China librarian sells hot dogs for bookish cause

BEIJING Thu Dec 6, 2007 4:13am EST

1 of 2. Annie Koh Chang talks to a customer at her hot dog stand in a department store in Beijing, December 6, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - A former Chinese studies librarian has opened a new chapter in her life by returning to China to sell hotdogs for a bookish cause.

Urban Chinese have exhibited a not-necessarily healthy appetite for Western fast food such as McDonald's hamburgers and KFC chicken, but hot dogs have yet to take off.

Annie Koh Chang, who worked for the University of California, Berkeley, however, was undeterred, setting up "Kala's" to help fund an education for China's poor.

"Our original idea was to take the profits from the restaurant and use them to sponsor the education of poor rural children" said Chang. "I thought it would be easy. But it turned out to be not easy at all."

Kala's itself was set up by funding from 22 former students of an Taiwan girls' school who now all live in the United States.

The first restaurant opened last year, but was forced to close in January.

Chang then opened a second store in May in the basement of an upscale Beijing shopping centre, where she faced bureaucratic hurdles from the beginning.

"I could not get a licence from the health department because my restaurant was less than 30 square metres," she said.

Chang had to strike a deal with the department store, giving it 31 percent of each dollar the restaurant made.

She then contracted out the manufacturing of the hotdogs to a firm that produces fare for top hotels in China and Hong Kong.

"My husband and I ate hotdogs for a year in order to decide which ones to sell," she said.

While the original goal was to provide tuition to rural students, Chang now focuses on schools for children of rural migrant workers in Beijing.

The funding for these projects so far comes directly out of her own pocket, as Kala's has yet to make a profit.

"I didn't think it would take so long to reach our objective," Chang said. "I realize it will take time for China to adopt to the hot dog culture."

(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; editing by Nick Macfie and Miral Fahmy)