Andrew Stow didn’t set out to create the edible icon of Macau. The British pharmacist-turned-baker was just trying to make the city’s Portuguese community feel a little more at home.
“It was because Andrew went to Belém [in Portugal] and saw pasteis de nata, and really liked what the culture was, to stop and have an espresso and an egg tart together,” says his sister Eileen Stow. “The shot of caffeine and the shot of sugar to get you through the day was the thing and he thought, ‘why isn’t that in Macau’?”
Andrew returned to Macau, his home since 1979, and started experimenting with his own version of the Portuguese egg pastry. Not long after, he opened Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane Village—with the initial intention to deliver breads and pastries to supermarkets—and included egg tarts among the more typical fare of sandwiches and birthday cakes.
Little did he know how much the local Chinese community would embrace what they referred to as the “Portuguese egg tart”, given its differences from the more commonly known egg tart served as dim sum. “He had no idea,” Eileen says. “They liked them so much that they would take them to their friends in Hong Kong. And then when their friends from Hong Kong came to visit, they said, ‘oh, we must find that bakery and take some home for our friends’. So it was the Hong Kong visitors who helped fuel the fire of fame.”
13,000 tarts daily
More than 25 years after selling its first egg tart, and eight years since Andrew’s sudden death from an asthma attack, Lord Stow’s Bakery now produces about 13,000 a day of what has become one of the most recognised symbols of Macau.
“Macau is that fusion of everything,” says Eileen, who has been managing the business since Andrew’s passing. “So the little egg tart sits well with that.”
Despite its reputation as Portuguese, this particular “little egg tart” is truly a fusion of cultures and imaginations. Its legend begins with Andrew, who grew up in Essex, England, with two sisters.
“He was the adventurer, not me and not my sister,” Eileen recalls. “As a teenager he was cycling to Germany and learning German before he went. He was going to kibbutzim in Israel. He loved to travel and see other cultures.”
After helping his mother, who worked at a chemist, Andrew studied pharmaceuticals and joined Boots as an industrial pharmacist. He moved to Anglo French Laboratories in Macau in 1979 and, when the company moved a few years later, he decided to stay in Macau.
“He needed to create his own business, so he thought he would do health foods, which of course was 20 years ahead of its time,” Eileen says.
With the business struggling, Andrew took a side job managing the Green Parrot disco at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. It was then that his Portuguese friends started calling him “Lord Stow” because he “lorded control” over the tables.
The health food business never took off, but Andrew found a niche importing flour for expat women looking to make their own bread.
“You get those light bulb moments and he realised there was a need for a bakery,” Eileen says.
“How many people turn up in a strange country and give that country an edible icon?"
With his scientific training and a passion for cooking, Andrew threw himself into baking and developing recipes. He enlisted the help of friends at the Hyatt and on September 15, 1989, Andrew and his wife Margaret Wong opened Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane Village. Their daughter Audrey was born four months later.
“When he told me he was going to name it Lord Stow’s, I was like, ‘are you mad?’” Eileen says. “There were often those things when I’d say, ‘Are you mad?’, and he’d be proved right.”
Becoming an icon
The first wholly Western bakery to open streetside, Lord Stow’s was primarily launched as a delivery business. But when the egg tart boom happened, and Andrew needed to expand, he and Eileen decided to stop the delivery business and focus on the bakery and growing network of cafes.
Eileen had left her job in the music industry in 1993 and moved to Macau to help Andrew set up his second outlet. Within a few years, copycat egg tarts started popping up in Hong Kong and Taiwan. “Andrew was even walking into shops in Singapore and saying, ‘Take my photo out of your window!’” she says.
The business continued to expand, including a few franchises established while Andrew was alive and that are now managed by his daughter. By the time he passed away, the company had four outlets and a factory in Macau. Losing the man who had become Lord Stow was devastating.
“I’m amazed we survived,” Eileen says. “But I had a laser moment when I was sitting in a historic garden and I just knew that my destiny was to carry on for the future. Maybe that’s why I came here in the first place. So then it became a very determined effort to restructure the management, to emphasise Andrew and his legacy, and not let him be forgotten.”
In the years since, Eileen has grown the business from four outlets and 45 employees to eight outlets—plus two in the planning—and 130 employees. She has even imported Macau’s very first egg cracking and separating machine, able to crack 8,000 eggs an hour.
Sitting in one of her cafes, around the corner from the original Lord Stow’s Bakery, Eileen is still amazed by what her brother has created.
“I talk about it every day and sometimes I step back and think it’s crazy, it’s unbelievable,” she says. “How many people turn up in a strange country and give that country an edible icon? You know, it’s not that common.”