Search for “The Burrow” on the restaurant rating app Dianping, scroll down the page, and the first comments appear “Great coffee! The only drawback here is the compounded aroma mixed with the food market nearby. Nevertheless, it allows you to feel the hustle and bustle of Chengdu streets. I stopped by the food market to pick up some fried snacks to go with the Americano, a perfect match.” “I thought it was just an Instagrammable place, but the iced Americano was beyond expectations.” “If you only have time to visit three cafes in Chengdu, I would recommend The Burrow.”
Sitting at one end of Zhongdao Street, The Burrow neighbors the food market . It was converted from a chicken coop and has been a famed name in the city. As soon as it opened in August 2022, trendy youngsters gathered here and tagged it as “Chicken Coop Café”, “internet – famous shop”, “steampunk”, the list goes on. Named after Ron Weasley’s family home from Harry Potter, the owner Chang Sihong wishes that The Burrow could be “homey” to visitors from all over the world. He sees it as more of a common room, where everyone can make a cup of coffee. Just as Chang takes Ron’s home as the best place he has ever seen, The Burrow has met a similar expectation, to some extent. After one year of operation, it is still vibrant. Just like this ever-improving store, Chang is also growing.
“Being an internet-famous shop Is an Established Fact”
When it came to choosing the location, Chang mulled over four factors: being interesting, unlimited possibilities, contrast, and low rent. For the current location at Zhongdao Street, he says frankly, “I was lucky to find such a ‘treasure’. The site gives us endless room for imagination.”
A golden zeppelin sits on the roof. Steampunk objects pile up. Knick Knacks made with primitive techniques – iron fireplaces and light fittings , and hammered brass wall coverings – liven up the room. Massive metal elements and mechanical installations perfectly resonate with red bricks and antique wood. The 17m2 space accommodates a movable bar counter, a separate zone for coffee lessons , a display zone for cultural products, a vinyl player, a rational zone to use f i replaces , a zone for brewing, a zone for roasting coffee beans , separate seating areas , and a large storage zone.
Through the fully open bar counter and folding doors, along with an outdoor seating area across the street, The Burrow opens its gates to accommodate all the guests and quickly shortens the distance from customers. Originally, the store planned to offer coffee courses, in addition to a simple menu of americanos, lattes, flat whites, and pour-overs. Unexpectedly, sales boomed with lot s of attracted visitors. However, Chang Sihong was in no hurry to enrich the menu or add special options. “Being a merch store is an established fact. We are just an ordinary store among nearly 10,000 cafes in Chengdu. What we need to do is to observe the market trends, without paying too much attention to the pace of society. We don’t have to influence or be influenced,” he says, “We want to express that coffee is an everyday consumption, a concept in line with the increasingly mature coffee market in Chengdu. The stable products and enriched brand need in-depth thinking.”
Being an “Instagrammable” place means customers would demand more than products . The Burrow was not a simple coffee-selling store since its inception. Chang thinks apart from offering a cup of coffee, offering more added value represents a type of involution. “Many consumers tend to have more specific needs. On top of caffeine, they demand aesthetic recognition, social currency, and even emotional connect ion with baristas ,” he s ays . “ In principle, this is not something that a cafe needs to provide. However, the large base in Chengdu means that many cafes must meet these needs to survive before they are attractive enough. There is no right or wrong in this matter ; i t ’s just a way to survive for different stores.”
Many residents in neighboring communities visited The Burrow after its opening at Zhongdao Street. According to media reports, dessert shops and bars had opened nearby in the following months, renewing the whole street visually, temperamentally and socially.
Trial and Error for New Birth
The Burrow at Zhongdao Street is the second store of the brand. In 2018, when Chang was a film student at the College of Communication, he chose coffee as his first career to avoid falling into anxiety and uncertainty after graduation. He opened the first store on the campus. “It was decent, tidy and easy to start.” The hasty decision led to a loss, but it was not unexpected for Chang. “The biggest misjudgment of the campus store was to do school business under the idea of an independent brand. Idealistically, I wanted most young people to grab their first cup of specialty coffee from my store. However, going against the market rule of targeting certain groups will backfire eventually. What students need is a study room that serves coffee.”
Afterward, he traveled around the country to visit many coffee stores and insiders. Back in Chengdu, he decided to set up a coffee space primarily for courses. He chose the chicken coop at Zhongdao Street at first sight.
From the refined store, customers can still get a faint glimpse of its previous appearance. The team did not make any structural changes to the space, but reinforced the entire house with steel for safety, and replaced all the previously decayed wood with new beams. About this decision, Chang explains that “a large part of Vintage culture lovers are a combination of complex emotions, such as dissatisfaction with the current world and longing for a bygone era.”
This spirit is carried over into the brand operations, with a brand position of “unconventional, de-homogenized and highly free”. “We like interesting things that are differentiated from other brands. It should be not easy to imitate and have a high degree of customer inclusiveness. We opened this store with labels of ‘vintage’ and ‘steampunk’. We love the products of the ‘steam era’. They are very unstable, colossal and powerful. All of these are fascinating.”
The charm also comes from the owner himself. For future planning, Chang holds no expectations. “That’s a road paved by pioneers; I just need to step on their footprints to walk well.”
With two start-up experiences, Chang has also learnt a few lessons. “The purpose of opening a business is to make a profit, so I would suggest following the market environment when you lack a better idea. When you make the first step through trial and error, my advice is to control the cost, just like how Ning Hao and Nolan made films in the beginning. Observe the market at a lower cost, since stores are extremely varied complexities which require constant judgment and innovation.”
Inclusive and Being Included
At the Zhongdao Street store, the seating area is concentrated across the street, where guests can look at the small house while killing time. “It ’s closer to Chengdu’s local big-bowl tea culture. At People’s Park, you can see lots of locals reclining outside with bowls of tea and melon seeds. They can spend the whole afternoon like this,” Chang says, adding “the outdoor space is much more relaxing and free, matching with the inclusiveness I want to give my guests.” Open until 10 p.m., the store offers only coffee quietly so us to not disturb the residents. They have gotten along well with neighboring vegetable vendors. They borrow tools from the vegetable shops and give waste paper shells to the vendors. The vendors also come for a drink when they have time.
Chang also chose to live and start a business in Chengdu because of the city’s inclusiveness. “I always take the city as a dense forest that allows everyone to grow wild and free, different and unique. I don’t know whether it is because of the influx of youngsters over a short period, or the DNA-rooted mahjong and leisure culture, the people here tend to be optimistic and resilient, worldly and orderly, open and free. The steampunk spirit has nothing to do with Chengdu, but the city’s inclusiveness grants more possibilities to its people. We’re lucky to be seen by so many customers. That reflects our relationship with the ci ty, to be inclusive and be included.” Las t year, Chengdu won first place in the list of China’s happiest cities for its 14th consecutive year.
According to the Youth Entrepreneurship City Vitality Report 2021, Chengdu is ranked as the second most desired destination by young entrepreneurs in China and has gradually become their new choice. The survey also shows that the entrepreneurial group is young in the city, with more than 80% of them under 37 and those born after 1985 serving as the pillar. Just as Chang said, he gave his youth to the glorious city. In addition, the Chengdu Youth Development Report 2022 shows about 9,603,600 of the Chengdu population is aged 14-45, accounting for 45.87% of the permanent residents.
“Possibilities are stronger where there are more youngsters. Countless people are working for Chengdu, and the city embraces a new look every year. Young people know very well what they want, and they can build a better city if it will allow them to survive. It’s a nice virtuous cycle. Later on, some young people may move on to better cities, and some return to their less-developed hometowns. However, they wi l l al l be grateful to this inclusive ci ty for making them better,” Chang said.