Chi Ng, owner of 5 Sweets café on Ocean Avenue, clearly enjoys making his customers happy. Two women and a young boy who came in for lunch were surprised that the savory crepes they ordered—generously portioned with a side salad—were more of a meal than a snack.
After his customers had finished eating, Ng handed the boy a freshly-spun cone of cotton candy, made from a machine he keeps behind the counter.
Ng bought 5 Sweets, formerly Tea Me, in January of 2015, and quickly saw that the neighborhood needed something new. It is important to Ng to use fresh ingredients whenever possible, especially fruits, in his crepes and smoothies, and to offer something different than what is available elsewhere on Ocean Avenue.
“Cooking is my passion,” Ng said. When he moved to San Francisco from Hong Kong in 1989, he said, “I quickly got fed up with food made with MSG. Why not spend 20 to 30 minutes to make something for myself?”
Ng had come to San Francisco to continue his higher education, but it took two extra years for him to transfer to San Francisco State University from City College. “Two years sounds like a waste, but it helped me learn about American culture. It was a fun time,” Ng said.
The neighborhood has changed a lot since Ng’s City College days. “[Ocean Avenue] feels like a totally different place,” he said. “It’s improved, feels safer. The only place that hasn’t changed is McDonalds.”
After achieving his bachelor’s degree in business from San Francisco State University, Ng stayed at State and began the Finance MBA program. Family and work meant that he had to take a break from the program, but with two classes to go, achieving the degree remains a goal.
Ng’s day job is as a bookkeeper in Berkeley, where he continues to work 40 hours a week while owning and operating 5 Sweets. Ng’s goal is for 5 Sweets to become profitable enough for him to serve food and drinks full time. “I’ve always wanted to slow down from accounting,” Ng said, “and do something I love to do.”
5 Sweets is Ng’s second cafe business. He lost a bookkeeping job in 2010 during the economic downturn, after which he ran The Sweet House at 3512 Balboa St. in the Outer Richmond, later selling it to his sister-in-law.
“It’s a great shop,” Ng said, noting that he faced a different market in the Ingleside. “People in the Richmond are looking for drinks, but on Ocean Avenue they want something to eat.”
Now that City College is in session, business has picked up a bit at 5 Sweets, but Ng wants to expand his customer base. Marketing remains a challenge for the shop, and it’s something that Ng continues to work on.
His menu, based on customer reviews on Yelp, is working well. To a café or restaurant, “the taste is important,” Ng said.
5 Sweets is located at 1125 Ocean Ave.