Becoming the “Queen of Cakes” has not been easy for Bonnae Gokson. Formerly the Regional Chief of Image and Communications of Chanel Asia Pacific, she left behind the familiarity of the fashion industry to venture into the world of food and beverage, a daring decision that was received by doubt from those around her. Now, thirteen years after founding SEVVA, one of Hong Kong’s most renowned dining destinations, alongside Ms B’s Cakery and C’est La B, the female restaurateur and creative visionary has proven her bystanders wrong. 

We spoke to Gokson about the ups and downs of her journey into F&B as a female entrepreneur, the key to creating the perfect dish and how she defines success.

One of many stunning cakes available at Ms B's Cakery

One of many stunning cakes available at Ms B's Cakery

You were the Regional Chief of Image and Communications at Chanel and helped your sister Joyce Ma establish the Joyce Group in luxury fashion. What prompted you to leave fashion and venture into F&B?

I was trained and mentored by the best person anyone could’ve asked for during my teen years with the JOYCE group — by the owner herself, who happens to be my sister. I’ve covered store sales, buyers for fashion, lifestyle, bridal, beauty and homewares extensively across Europe, the US, London and Tokyo. I also helmed the visual merchandising team for all 40 odd stores that we’ve opened. Furthermore, I produced and conceptualised fashion shows. At one of our JOYCE stores designed by Peter Marino at 9 Queen’s Road, we had a tiny cafe at the back of the store named JOYCE Cafe. I was given the honour of coming up with the dining and menu concept — this marked the start of my journey into the food & beverage industry.

After over four years at Chanel, I actually signed to stay on for a few more, but the travelling that I had to do with my intense workload had taken a toll on my health. I knew it was time to take a good restful break from the fashion industry.

From there, I took a happy sabbatical for a year.  I actually had the intention of bringing Laduree Cafes to Hong Kong as I liaised with the owner, and he had given me the rights to open something like what Laduree Cafe was in Champs Elysees. Just as I was about to sign our contract, my good friends reminded me that I would never be able to create anything myself as it was a franchise, which would be a pity. We were searching for 7,000 sq ft spaces and well, I remain immensely grateful that my arms got twisted into doing my own thing, as that became SEVVA!

An interior shot of Sevva's harbourside room

An interior shot of Sevva's harbourside room

Named the “Queen of Cakes” by The New York Times, what is the importance of a good dessert to you? What does it take to create the perfect dish?

I was absolutely thrilled to be featured in the New York Times as Queen of Cakes then. To me, a great dessert should ideally be crafted from top-quality produce and have different and balanced textures to the palette without being too sweet.   

Creating a perfect dish takes good execution on the balance, contrast, emphasis, textures, colours and simplicity of the dish. It also depends on the choice of cuisine and so forth to start with.

You are recognised as one of China’s Top 100 Outstanding Women by the China Association of Women Entrepreneurs and you have created your own empire in the F&B scene with Sevva, Ms B’s Cakery and the C’est La B, among other ventures. Were there any challenges you faced as a female entrepreneur while making your foray into F&B? How did you overcome them?

I am humbled and grateful for the many awards that were presented to me over the years. As a female working amongst almost a team of 170 odd male staff, it was quite challenging from the beginning. First of all, I was raised and educated very differently. I recall many bystanders who came to our opening launch party commented that because I came from a luxury fashion and lifestyle background, SEVVA would not last more than two years as I may be a spendthrift! Well, here we are in our 13th year of operation and we’re so proud to be known as one of the city’s top iconic institutions for dining & entertainment.

To tackle and overcome so many challenges in the F&B industry is no joke. Over the years, I gradually grew to understand more about our staff’s different experiences in work and in life and encouraged them to think outside the box. Building a globally recognised brand is not easy at all. I am extremely grateful for my staff and I’ve always told them “together we stand, divided we fall”. I’ve always cared for them and I feel so blessed that most of them have been working here for 8 to 10 years, some even since our opening.

A precise, creative design from Ms B's Cakery

A precise, creative design from Ms B's Cakery

Who are some of the most inspiring women in your life? How have they influenced you?

My sister Joyce Ma, founder of the JOYCE fashion empire, is one of the most inspiring women in my life and is respected by many. She still has such an incredible joie-de-vivre attitude in life with exuberance and passion.

Next would be my niece, Yvette Ho who’s a wonderful mother to her children and a great partner to her husband, a great home chef with the biggest heart and soul. Yvette served on numerous charities and school boards and is the Co-Founder of the school BLOOM KKCA Academy.  She has always been committed to transforming young lives.

Another woman who inspires me would be Su Lee Chen. She is one of the most intelligent and sweet people I know, the best mom to her kids and also the best wife to her husband and family. Su co-founded Bring Me A Book charity that raises awareness around early-childhood literacy.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs or restaurateurs?

My advice to budding entrepreneurs is you’ll need to love and have a lot of passion for what you do. Surround yourself with the right people. Build a team that shares your vision. Be humble and learn. Don’t mind the long hours and be open to new ideas and opportunities.

How do you define success?

Success isn’t about what we have accomplished in our lives, it’s about what we inspire people to do and always holding on to a positive attitude in life.