It’s misleading to say that the BBQ pork crispy baked pineapple bun helped earn THW their Michelin star.
I think there are far more factors that contributed to their success.
While that pineapple bbq pork bun is one of their signatures and and maybe the most famous, THW is also well known for the pan fried turnip cake, liver cheung fun, and the “malai” steamed sponge cake in Hong Kong (to name a few).
The whole idea behind THW was the anti-Michelin star factor, a former Lung King Heen 3 Michelin star chef leaving and starting his own dim sum restaurant. The fact they got a Michelin star spoke volumes to critics who confirmed how out of touch Michelin really is, but that’s another sentiment for another discussion.
A good part of THW’s success lies in their business model/MO of primarily efficiency and a smaller/exacting menu of steadfast classics and traditional offerings (with a little room for modern) at a pretty consistent quality bar. With that efficiency comes “cooked to order” (a motto now cloned by copycats), the elimination of push carts (replacing it with checksheet) due to increasingly expensive real estate costs… this is another whole can of worms as to why HK historic/traditional food culture is disappearing so fast. When you have fresh/cooked to order, decent quality (debatable to a lot of folks these days), affordable price with high turnover, it’s a win win for the consumer and the business. Other chains over there have repeated this business model, though not at the same level of fame.
Speaking of checksheets…the super expensive but old school Luk Yu Tea House has checksheets (or so the dim sum menu written in Chinese the traditional way) and has been like that for a long time
(pic of Luk Yu checksheet menu lifted from Yelp)
So this has little or nothing to do with carts vs checksheets. Both existed for some time, and some coexisted at some point. I’m sure Luk Yu is not the only restaurant that did check sheet with this old style of printing/font/paper back in the day.
Over here (California), even with such fierce competition there is always a segment of the population that prefers value and quantity/output over higher price balanced with quality (part of it is human nature). So if a good number of the big names and players are offering similar level product (or even outsourcing the goods to an external dim sum factory, only to heat up the goods in house), with very minor differences, then the winner in the competition will have to offer the best value. Then there’s not much incentive to hire skilled dim sum makers or invest time in doing things right at the loss of efficiency and variety, when it will just upset the balance books in the end. Yes that can be chalked up to complacency, but these are far more severe symptoms, and people who continue to support these places enable them to get away with doing and offering less for less. This is almost like the impression Hong Kong cafes in the SGV give me, even if you only look at the breakfast menu…who can offer the most variety at the best price…they will all be decent in filling up stomach space and will taste ok, but that’s about it. How many versions of similar ham and egg sandwiches or macaroni in canned soup, a plate of plain cheung fun with the same quality as a Chinese supermarket (just microwaved) or spam & instant noodles with a generic broth can you handle?
Some say that they cannot tell the difference between a dim sum factory bought and in house heated dim sum item vs if it were made in house. And then there are those who say there are no differences whatsover if that dim sum factory sourced item were heated in bamboo steamers vs metal/tin steamers. So it’s not just business complacency, there’s a bit with the consumer as well.
It’s easy to copy trends, but it’s another to do them just as well. Anyone can try to make something fancy looking just to have it on the menu. It will draw in the crowds temporarily. People can be unforgiving, and then there are those who don’t know better.
THW would be considered a waste of stomach quota for me if I were to visit HK again. Nothing against them, it’s just that there are so many better options to hit up, even for something similar over there, whether one wants to splurge or not. They do make a good business school case study though (similar to Australian Dairy Company for efficiency).