Not content with producing some of the world's best porcelain products, artist and entrepreneur Francis Chen is now busying himself in the kitchen of his very own restaurant, "Franz and Friends."
Serving up unusual fare like peanut butter pizzas and savory salads, Chen, founder and president of Franz Collection Inc., says opening a "rock 'n roll" restaurant is a dream come true for him. The watering hole, located on the basement of Taipei's Metropolitan Hall, opened its doors with a "reunion" party featuring Chen's music buddies last Friday.
"I used to be with a rock-and-roll band, and I even ran a restaurant for nearly 14 years. Of course, those were during my younger days," Chen tells the Taiwan News. "Anyway, we stopped doing that for almost 20 years which was a pity. Now that we have more time in our hands, we decided to open 'Franz and Friends.' This place reminds us of the good old days."
His music career might not have turned out the way he had planned it, but Chen has hit platinum in the Chinese porcelain universe.
In 2002, the artist launched Franz Collection, a brand owned by Seagull Decor. The latter, which is a recipient of the 2005 National Gold Award of Excellence in Taiwan, supplies mid-range to premium porcelain products in over 4,000 retail stores worldwide. The company generates US$35 million in revenues annually.
Franz Collection - "Franz" is Francis Chen's college nickname - aims to revitalize the art of Chinese porcelain-making in the country. Each piece is undeniably Chinese although the styling is inspired by classic designs, Chen says.
Since setting up Franz Collection in June 2002, Chen has made substantial investments in R&D and in his company's production facilities. Today, the company has sculpting and design centers in China, Taiwan, Europe and the United States.
The entrepreneur says he is using cutting-edge technology including rapid prototyping tools to manufacture products with zero-defects. The design tool cost him US$1 million. "This tool has enabled us to experiment with and produce porcelain prototypes in various shapes and sizes. We're talking about porcelain ware that would have had been impossible to create thousands of years ago," he says in an earlier interview.
Each artwork undergoes 15 different steps. Each piece is fired at over 1,000 degrees Celsius to ensure that the colors do not fade and the porcelain keeps the highest quality glaze. The items are also painted by hand, Chen says.
"Yes, we are using the latest technologies to upgrade our product quality but it's really the craftsmanship that goes into every piece that differentiates us from other premium porcelain suppliers," he says.
In 2006, Franz Collection is hoping to generate some excitement with its latest collection of "Papillon" or butterfly-inspired porcelain containers, tabletops, and home accents. A medium-size bowl carries a retail price of close to NT$10,000 - a good buy considering that the exquisite item could be a part of one's family heirloom, the company says.
"In our own little way, we're hoping to promote Taiwanese brands in the international market," Chen says.
The entrepreneur is confident that his newest baby, "Franz and Friends" restaurant, will also be a success.
"It's the best place to unwind," he adds. "If you love good food and great music, drop by 'Franz and Friends.'"