When you walk into a restaurant, what do you notice most? Maybe you have issues with the decor, or the menu design, and you think, "Oh, my Gaaawwwddd, how hard would it be to just IKEA this shit nicely?" right?
Ever known an architect? Or an interior designer? How much do they earn? Ever gone to buy fancy light fixtures? Or even bar stools or custom photo frames?
Well, you could try to figure how much the rent is for any given space, knowing how rent is in Hong Kong, first...maybe, lets say, 80K...hypothetically....then figure how many staff they have, you may only see 3, but more will be in the kitchen, still more will not have come on shift yet...so lets imagine a nice round number for a small place is about 10 staff. Lets assume they are each paid the same wage and its a fair one, so lets go for somewhere between 15-25K, which really is quite a broad average, but ok, lets assume.
That makes salaries anywhere between 150K and 250K a month, and don't forget to add on the MPF contributions for them, the insurance for the shop to ensure everyone is covered in house if there is some insane fire or the building falls to the ground. Then you got electricity, you do the math on how much your apartment electric bill is like in the summer, and then multiply that by about 8 to 10...and depending on the size of your apartment, maybe you can just double it...some people live in nice sized apartments here in Hong Kong.
Then maybe consider your budget for food costing on top of that, aiming to plan for at least 100 covers a day. Which is very small really, but its realistic if you think how many seats the place has, how many times you see those seats change over. (You will see where I am going with this).
Now do the math on the average price of a meal there, and figure out how many meals that particular restaurant needs to sell in order to break even, even on your most conservative guess or your wildest guess.
Margins in FnB are pretty tight. You have one month with holidays and it brings you right back to where you started, then you have three good months, and it is supposed to carry you three other shit ones. This is very much the same with weeks and days...in the past, Friday and Saturday carried us through the week, it would help pad the week up, and over the last few months, the weekends have becomes, at times, worse than weekdays. So you can figure how this is for not just our place but for all restaurants in the same position.
Its no wonder that the Li Ka Shing Foundation has considered this and is generously pledging money towards small businesses in FnB. When you think about how government rates have gone up after they stopped subsidies, when you consider the cost of electricity, the cost of water, gas, and manpower, you will figure out exactly how asking for something you think is "cheap" for free, isn't actually free for the restaurant.
You will genuinely not take more than you need, you won't waste usage of the cutlery or the napkins, you will think twice to ask for something extra without offering to pay for it. Many times we get asked about substituting something for another, which is cool, we are happy to help when we can, but sometimes people don't get that one thing costs more, maybe not simply in ingredients, but in manpower, and what looks like a tablespoon of it, still has an intrinsic value.
When we started, none of it mattered because none of it made sense. I was so new to it all, I have had to learn everything the hard way. Its also phenomenal how easy it is to go from the ups to the downs and right back up again, and the only thing you can count on is that life will be unpredictable.
What else costs money? Paper bags, napkins, toilet paper, cleaning products, meeting the MOQ on every suppliers list, laundry, dishwasher rental, more cleaning products, packaging, more packaging, breakage of crockery, condiments, spices, and on and on...
If you take a napkin to your table, we have to throw it away after even if it looks untouched...its purely a matter of hygiene. Same with forks, spoons, knives...it has to be washed even if you haven't used it, purely coz you took it to your table. More washing needed.
We talk about zero waste and sustainability, it comes down to every last choice and it can be exhausting. Like, isn't it good enough I went vegan, dagnammit? Lol.
So sometimes I have to step back from the guilt of running a restaurant and try to figure out the balance of the good it serves vs the carbon footprint of its existence. We are still working with a much smaller carbon footprint, but the longer I operate the more I notice the flaws in the system and I am constantly considering how I would do it differently the next time.
I am happy, learning as I go, we all have, as a team. And I know, what we do, its good, it just costs so much money and I wish more people knew this before they decide to underestimate the cost. Its about knowing each seat has an intrinsic value and a time stamp on it.
I remember my husband and I sitting in a ramen shop in a Tokyo suburb once, we had ordered a ramen and a beer. Once we were done with our ramen, we were sipping our beer and talking, you know, like people do, just chatting. The owner leaned in and said, "Excuse me, this isn't a bar, please, finish and you can leave!"
You can imagine what went through our minds, the place was empty except for us. That said...sometimes I get what he's saying. Not the exact thing, but sometimes when people try to bag spread or sit on a computer with only a coffee for hours, that can kinda make my eye twitch and I lean in much like that Japanese ramen shop owner, and I don't say what he did, but I certainly feel like he must have.
And of course, this brings me to the final thought I wish people would think.
How many hours do you reckon your server works?
Not just waitstaff, but chefs, line cooks, prep cooks, the lot.
How many jobs do you think that one person holds?
What do you quantify as worthy of a service charge or tip? And if you are billed service charge, do you check to see if it goes to the staff?
Some kitchen staff hold down two, maybe three jobs. They may have small kids who ensure they sleep shit at night. They may live a whole hours and a half commute away because this was the best paying job they could get.
So when you treat service staff like crap, know that you actually have no idea how long that persons day has been, how small their apartment may be, how many household members they are supporting, and how they carry all that along with serving with a smile. Some may not serve with a smile, some may be well spent on service altogether, lol, but know that there is only one thing you can be sure of, you actually don't know.
The people I have seen who have been the kindest and most helpful, regardless of their current prosperity in life, have been those who grew up helping parents who owned restaurants. There is quiet pride in their eyes, for you, like, legitimately, they take pride in seeing you succeed while running an independently owned restaurant, purely because they know the life.
I suppose there is something to be said about helping your parents clean grease traps and ventilation hoods coz you are small enough to get in there! My own son has had to learn the hard way what it takes to be the one picking up the slack in a running restaurant. I sat him down ages ago, "Son, I want you to KNOW, truly know what hard work is, so you will work hard to ensure you one day have an easy life!" lol.
My husband grew up with dish washing jobs, and its why when I need extra help, he comes and helps me even though its way below his pay-grade, he gets it, he knows how hard it is and how much a team being strong matters.
I think it ought to be mandatory for all kids when graduating school, to do a job that involves service to others. Humility in the face of adversity. To learn what they are capable of, genuinely, I think working in old age homes, or FnB, or even doing military service, would shape a young mind and fortify one to be resilient as all hell!
You know how many kids have come through our door and simply didn't last? A lot. Unable to consider cleaning a toilet because it was beneath them, or clueless about how to sweep a floor or wash dishes. I was cooking meals for our family at 14 or 15...they weren't good meals, but they were meals nonetheless.
So somehow, where in all the fray, as people sit on smart devices, connecting away, are they connecting the dots of what it all costs, economically, socially, sustainability wise...
I remember the days when they had Archie B's, a deli in Hong Kong which was located somewhere in Soho. Even back then, I would see the owners, slaving away, and I would be in awe! For me, it was as close as I could come to personally knowing superstars!
I kid you not.
Taco Loco was another one of their small restaurants..what an inspiration! Both places really are likely my original inspiration for a good, wholesome, no-nonsense food made with love and understanding that food has to taste good, dagnammit! Flavor, spice, devil in the detail!!! They had pastrami and pickled green tomatoes! Back then I was never a pastrami fan, but the pickled green tomatoes! Woah!
I loved the owners too, genuine people, kind, generous, and hopelessly overworked back when I knew them. Legends in my mind, hands down, absolute stars! My kid (who is 20, so not a kid anymore) STILL talks about our Sundays at their restaurant.
I've lived in Hong Kong a long time. I think this coming birthday will make the count about 30 years, give or take a few away, but I still say that is about right because even if I left, to Texas or Tokyo, I never really left.
My kids are born here, all three of them, so when people ask me where home is, this is it. Hong Kong is my home. And one day, somewhere else will be, maybe, coz really, the only reason I can afford to continue living here is because at least one of us in my marriage has a good paying job, and it ain't me! Lol.
I thank my husband regularly for being the awesome human he is, and mostly for affording me the opportunity to follow a dream, no matter how insane, and I express gratitude for his fortitude in enduring my dreams.
I truly am a lucky person. Lucky to have learned so much, lucky to be surrounded by kindness and generosity, and lucky to be alive. If I died tomorrow, I reckon I wouldn't even know, and I hope that someone somewhere will remember that I cooked a damn good meal for them...if that is my legacy, I will totally be happy with that!
I have just started on two books. One is a "book" book, one with actual paper pages made from trees, the other is an Audio based book. Audible is a rather new thing for me. I first discovered Audible when I bought the book "World War Z" which came with a CD, which I was then able to upload into my computer and then onto my iPhone as a file in my iTunes.
At the time, can't quite remember how long ago it was, but I am sure it was when I was traveling in Japan, because my memories involve sitting in a bathtub that was way too small while listening to someone narrate, and me laughing hard while listening.
World War Z is an easy one to listen to on Audible because its AWESOME in its uniqueness. Its not narrated by one guy, the way that Harry Potter is, or some other such. And even better, its not narrated by a computer, which I can assure you, I have come across that in my sheer misfortune of buying an Audio book called "Grain Brain"!
World War Z is almost like those old school radio plays. Before Movies and TV became a thing. Its even got Alan Alda doing one of the voices! So you get quite sucked into the actual listening experience, your mind makes clear and precise pictures in your head, you can visualize something with ease because you are actually engaged.
The same cannot be said for EVERY audio book out there.
Like for instance, I have listened to "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k" and I have to admit, I have yet to get past the midway point.
Not because I give too many "F**ks" but because it isn't quite that riveting in its content. Yes, its well read, yes, it can be funny, but at times, it just makes me want to fall asleep. Audio books, in some way, are only as good as the person reading you is capable of holding your attention. Its like the worlds longest lecture if you are someone who devours books.
If I read a proper paper book, I need to be on holiday, because then I can read from start to finish without giving too many "f**ks" about what time I need to sleep (I always sleep early when on holiday, its like this thing I do!) or what you need to do the next day.
Ah well, I am not on holiday, all I managed was to make it through Sunday. We closed the shop early on Saturday when we learned that the unapproved protest that had started in Causeway Bay was moving swiftly to Central. Videos and whatsapps showed us people flaunting the face mask ban, clad in black and legging it through the main streets of Wan Chai. Yeah, not going to stay open in the hopes that one person rocks up to eat while at the same time putting the team at risk of having to spend the night on my couch or in a capsule hotel like last time.
Reality is, I put a tiny note on the doorway to clarify why we were closing at 5pm on a Saturday vs 7:40pm. And I then posted the amendment of closing time to Google (which is supposed to be the bastion of all that is legit) and then I also posted to Instagram (being as we aren't on Facebook) and finally here on our website.
Now...you tell me this, is it my responsibility to find everywhere else on the internet that people have decided to post about our existence and our operating hours? Like openrice, happy cow, and lord knows what other place we exists at that we have no clue about?
I think that would sound like finding a needle in a haystack and its a lot for ONE person to manage at the same time as managing closing tasks, planning frantically for the week ahead and doing something that, anyway, is out of the ordinary for all of us as a team.
So you can imagine my surprise to find, on Sunday evening, a scribble at the corner of my note on the doorway saying, "Traveled an hour to get here, Peace".
Now, if I hadn't just spent the whole Sunday switching between two very incredible books vs just sitting around on Netflix, I may have really gotten upset for no reason.
My first feeling was guilt, then anger for feeling guilt, then anxiety for where on the internet this person would go to vent their frustration because they obviously wouldn't know if I made a reply under their scribble. And the scribble, would we say its passive-aggressive? Like...Arrrrggghhhh, I just traveled all this way to find you closed!!! Followed by "Peace" almost like a deflated....Aaaaiiiii.....sigh.
I dunno, how do you read something like that?
Well, good thing for me the two books I am stuck in to, in tandem, literally switching between the Audio book and the Book book...helped me not freak out and descend into anxiety.
One of them is a book recommended by Sam Harris, and this one is the Audio one, because, something told me I would find the content quite dry to keep going if I attempted to read it, what with my ADD and my workload.
The first book is called: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (William B. Irvine) and I can assure you, its been enlightening as hell.
The second book I am reading, the actual paperback book, is called: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari, Derek Perkins, et al.).
Both books work great in conjunction, reading one when it reminds me of the other and listening to one when the other has gotten way to expansive for my human sized brain.
Upon reading the note that ended with "Peace" I actually took it to heart.
Anger serves no purpose. Fear, rides in the back seat with me every day. Anxiety is what wakes me daily. Matter of fact, I woke up so anxious this morning I thought I was going to die. I had to sit down to meditate, my third actual attempt at meditation unguided by Sam Harris' soothing voice dripping in through my headphones and into my human brain! And guess what:? After meditation on stoicism, meditating about saying goodbye to every single team mate, every person who comes into the shop, losing everything from my shop to my health, resulting in my imminent death...I was then about to gain some perspective on how none of it matters.
You know how in the past I have said, "Whats the point?"
The point is, we are all fragile, and we are only as strong as our minds are fortified, and we are only as confident as we let ourselves to be.
I have struggled for all my life, to distinguish the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem, and now, as I approach my 43rd birthday, here I stand, knowing that my self-esteem is only just beginning to see the light of day. People may see me as confident, or not...but I have been fairly assured that I appear self-confident at times and self-depreciating most of the time...but self-esteem has been something that I have sorely been lacking.
And it wasn't until a recent effort at meditation when I focused on "Metta" or Loving Kindness...not towards others, but towards myself, that I broke down in tears mid meditation.
There I was, sitting cross legged on my sofa, my cats meowing loudly to get my attention, and I began to realize how little I actually love myself and how little faith I have in myself. Most of my external expression of who I am is about showing I got this, but a lot of the time, I am eaten alive by anxiety about the things I have little control over.
I have little control over what people think of me, I have little control over what someone may say about me, and I have little control over what the future of Hong Kong will bring for me or the shop financially.
What I realize now, something I knew but didn't actually meditate on, is that the one thing I do have control over is my integrity, my virtue, my skills and my labor.
Like...as in, the food I create, all I can do is keep doing my best.
It literally is the only thing I can control.
I can control how much we spend, I already do that.
And just...do my best.
So I am at peace, much like the note suggested. Because I do my best, to make decisions that are rooted in integrity. I do my best to take care of the human beings in my life who I genuinely love and respect, my team, my family, and I am starting to realize, this includes myself.
I do my best to keep innovating and creating food that makes people feel joy.
The rest, I have no control over. And Stoicism is what has made me realize this more than logic, and meditation is what brought me to that awareness of one branch of Philosophy.
When I studied Philosophy, I remember my Jesuit professor telling us "Philosophy is about the love of knowledge, Philo...Sophia...and even this fine University you all are attending, is named Sophia..."
*Etymological meaning of Philosophy. ... Philosophia means 'love of knowledge', 'pursuit of wisdom', 'systematic investigation. English word 'Philosophy' comes from a combination of two Greek word, which are 'Philo' and 'Sophia'.
Hmmm...I went back to university in my 30's and I have not stopped in my pursuit of wisdom ever since...and let me be the first to admit that I am slowly forgetting something as simple as why I walked into another room, but it eventually comes back to me, like, "Oh, yeah, carrots!" and I worry unnecessarily about what will happen to my mind the older I get, because, lets face it, I am halfway towards a foot in the coffin, maybe more than half way, who knows.
But for now, I will recommend both these books so you too, if you are like me, can find some people, some self-acceptance for all your beautiful imperfections, and some self-love for all the integrity and virtue you carry in bucketfuls.
Much like I am telling myself now, you got this. Don't give up, meditate daily on losing everything you love, so you can find the love you do have around you.
We aren't closing the shop, but I meditate on it now, what it would feel like to lose my business, and I am grateful as all hell for having this business. I meditate on losing Peter, Swati, Clara, Jake, Anh, and even my family, my kids...my husband...and then I am immensely grateful for their part in my life and in my worklife.
Finally, I meditate about losing my life...to something like a quiet heart attack or a slow and painful cancer, and I become immensely grateful for every single day I have with my children, my husband, my customers, my team....just...being alive, in this world with made up constructs, money, corporations, nations, all make belief...
Ok, Now, I need to head to work, its 7:20am, I have been writing for an hour...and its Monday!
Here's wishing each and every one of you an incredible week ahead, much love, peace and happiness...and mostly, gratitude for the ones you love and who love you back.
You know what popped into my mind the other day as I was falling asleep?
"Creativity, to me, is like a ball of twine...unless I am wound up tight, there is nothing to pull out of me."
Yep, I could literally see myself as a ball of twine right now.
And I had to pop that down on my iPhone notes before I forgot it because I felt pretty happy with that analogy. Most of the cool stuff I think about is just as I fall asleep, and I have learned not to count on remembering it without writing it down.
I wish I could write everyday, I wish I could plan my writing, I wish I knew where I was going with it when I want to write...but the thing is...unless I am truly feeling miserable or emotionally wound up, I don't feel like writing.
Creating dishes comes easier to me than writing. Its more tangible, I guess, its more...multi-sensory.
Like, here is a mystery box full of vegetables, grains and pulses, create!
I would love that kind of day!
Often Mondays are like that for me, although it can sometimes feel like this mad rush rather than a joyful adventure.
Mondays are super hectic for me, well, for all of us, because its a mad race to the opening time where we are having to stock the entire menu because we are all out of everything due to being closed on Sunday.
Monday is also the start back to the lunchbox deliveries for the week, running Monday to Friday, we deliver lunches to a select handful of eager desk bound plant eaters in the Central business district.
Generally on Sunday I do everything I can to not think about Monday, but as Sunday evening rolls around I get that same feeling of melancholy mixed with anxiety that I remember having when I was a kid and the Sunday evening cartoons began to play on the television. As I'd sit there watching the Disney Afternoon, I'd feel that sinking feeling in my gut because I knew my weekend was over and tomorrow was the start of another week where demands would be placed on me, tasks would need completing and sleep would become a timed must vs something that eventually rolled into my consciousness after hours of play and fun.
One day just isn't enough time off to rest. And yet, I keep reminding myself, I am doing something I genuinely do enjoy doing, I just wish it were easier, or that I had more hours in a day.
People for the most part don't know how a restaurant is run.
Like for instance, if we say we close at 8pm, and last order is at 7:40pm, that means that we hope to get out of the shop by 8:30pm ourselves, if we are lucky. Opening tasks in a restaurant are a whole different number of tasks than closing tasks, and generally, closing tasks are more time consuming.
Here is how "Opening" goes:
Roll in, turn on all the lights except the ones that make people think you are open for business!
Switch all the equipment you will use on, then dive into filling up filter water jugs, cutting, dicing, roasting, simmering...that basically goes on for hours until opening hours roll in.
I get to work anywhere between 5am and 7am, depending on what needs to be done. On Mondays, always an early start.
Lunch often kicks off anywhere after 11am...and ends somewhere around 4pm. We take a moment to eat our own late lunches before getting into further prep for the evening shift and the day to come.
Then you roll into dinner, and hope to get out at a reasonable hour.
All this depends on the closing time, the closing tasks to complete, and the customers.
Closing involves clearing all the dishes and cutlery, washing, wiping, sweeping all floors, cleaning all floors, scrubbing down the kitchen, scrubbing down the stove, oven, grill, pretty much anything that has been used. Stacking stuff away into fridges, and generally ensuring there is nothing left out that could attract pests. Basically the whole place has to be degreased, mopped, toilets cleaned, bins cleared, recyclables sent to recycle...its a lot that needs doing, including cashing out the till. Its not as simple as "closing time means closed and everyone goes home" it takes an hour plus if there is still stuff undone, sometimes it can take 2 hours.
If one receipt is rung up wrong, it can eat into that time as you try to find it in the fray.
I never knew how to do any of these things until I opened this restaurant. It was people I hired who taught me how to, and its taken me time to come to terms with the sheer grit it takes to keep a restaurant running smoothly. Sometimes I get impatient with folks who don't get it, and I have to remind myself, I used to be one of those guys.
Its been a learning experience, all of it. Understanding time management, understanding myself and being patient with myself so that I may be patient with others in turn.
I can only hope that by the time I get to the 3 year mark I will be able to look back on this here midway point and marvel at how much I have learned and how immensely my knowledge has grown. If this is how I feel about everything now, how will I feel in another year and a half?
Even more calm and confident, I hope.
I am finally meditating daily and practicing yoga, thanks to the gentle nudges of a few yoga teachers who happen to be regular customers. Its tough to find the time, and I can tell you, I am fighting the urge to make excuses, practically on a minute by minute basis.
I figure if I can just commit to a daily practice from Monday to Friday, that would be a good start. I managed 2 days last week at a yoga studio...and today I practiced at home. So if I can get in the yoga habit, I am certain I can find that balance between that feeling of being wound up tight like a ball of twine vs feeling flat like a day old soda.
Its a toughie, coping with feeling low when you have no time to take a break and lick your wounds, so to speak. I sometimes think about having something like a support group for others who feel the way I sometimes feel...and then I worry that maybe I won't be able to take on one more thing on top of everything I am already taking on. I get a lot of joy out of helping others, and yet, sometimes I fail to help myself. I neglect to pay attention to my inner voice as it begs me to slow down and just breathe.
So I guess, one step at a time.
Yoga, meditation (that I was already doing, months now) and working on getting adequate sleep (which is a challenge I am slowly inching towards).
The one biggest challenge I have set myself is to try to spend more time with my kids in the evening. I feel like I am missing out on so much of their lives by heading to work early and coming home late...and I feel guilty when I am away from them but I feel guilty when I am not at work too.
I guess I need to work on somehow forgiving myself for not being everything to everyone and everywhere at once.
These last few months have not been the best, and its no wonder that I am anxious when everyone in my industry is anxious. The average person on the street is walking around with so much on their minds, a fog of unsettling emotions.
I guess, much like everything in life, it will pass...its just a matter of when, and until then, I guess its just a matter of grit and tenacity.
That much I can guarantee I have in spadefuls.
Let no one keep you from your journey,
no rabbi or priest, no mother
who wants you to dig for treasures
she misplaced, no father
who won't let one life be enough,
no lover who measures their worth
by what you might give up,
no voice that tells you in the night
it can't be done.
Let nothing dissuade you
from seeing what you see
or feeling the winds that make you
want to dance alone
or go where no one
has yet to go.
You are the only explorer.
Your heart, the unreadable compass.
Your soul, the shore of a promise
too great to be ignored.
- Mark Nepo
This here poem, its made its way into my consciousness much the way that Sam Harris drops big words on the daily. Yesterday I learned a new word, "Liminal". Its hardly a big word, but its new, slightly alien to me.
Like...hey, I use the word "Subliminal" all the time, but who on earth has ever thought to say, "Liminal"???
When I was young, many moons ago, I used to cherish those moments when I learned a new word. I am not talking about being 5 or 6, I am talking about being an adult, confident that my grasp of the English language was pretty damn good for a half-breed growing up in a former British Colony...I scored high on my SAT's...for English...my Math was just about scraping by in the "very average" range.
Who cares though, right? Its been proven that language ability is a greater indicator of success than Math ability...so I am sticking with that little bit of nonsense for now.
Anyway, where have we been and where are we going?
You ever wonder that about your own life?
I do, a lot. I think after I hit 40, its like I wonder about that almost daily. Some days I am ahead of the game and some days I just don't want to play.
The thing that keeps coming back to me is this here one question, and I joke with my husband that one day I need to write a book by that very title:
Whats the point?
Or more like, "Whats the point!"
No really, what the hell is the point of it all? Of life, of making any effort to learn, of being someone bigger than yourself, of doing more to make the world somehow more habitable...
Whats the point...
And that is why this poem I share is so poignant.
I can't take credit for finding it, Elizabeth Gilbert can take that credit, and the Calm app can take credit for sharing it with me...
Every time I feel dejected and out of my element, I return to that one 30 min masterclass on the Calm app, and I remind myself, sometimes with tears welling in my eyes, that there is a point.
There is a point to trudging through one more day, even if today felt thankless.
There is a point in showing up, being present, even when no one else shows up to stand with you.
There is a point in choosing to create, even if no one will see your creation.
There is a point to caring, communicating, being...because if you chose to do nothing at all, there would be nothing you can contribute, you will stagnate, there will be no point.
Creative types, pshhh.
That, I guess, is how I understand one would describe me. I never thought that of myself. I always thought of myself in the ways others define me, from my mother when I was young, calling me, "Wasted potential" or my teacher in boarding school calling me, "Instigator"...we all, as we come into our own, do everything we can to prove those folks wrong, and hopefully, while doing so, we don't lose ourselves along the way.
I know now, I love to create. Creating something new, coming up with new ideas, making reality of ideas or dreams, that is where I find my purpose and fulfillment. I am constantly evolving, making a decision, changing my mind, looking at a problem from every angle and still finding the angle I like best. That is me.
Its been tough, let me not kid, these last few months have not been easy. We can't pretend that the protests haven't hit us like most of our compatriots in FnB. We were hoping it was because of the summer, there is always a downturn in the summer as people flee the insane heat here and holiday abroad. Kids are out of school so parental date nights and such are less...who knows, I wouldn't know what to compare it to because I've never actually done this before, Its gonna be a few years yet before I say, "This isn't my first Rodeo!"
We have been waiting for September to roll around, to see if the trend has to do with the protests or if they have to do with the norm of summer being quieter months...and well, hard to say at this stage. Hard to figure out how to juggle the numbers while still being in a space where we can continue to innovate and to create.
The most important part for me at this stage, I guess, is to ensure that the food quality remains good, the team remains happy, and I don't run myself into the ground by trying to do more, be more, and generally lose myself in doing and being.
I would never have thought I would do what I am doing...or for that matter, consider doing more...and yet, here I am, chomping at the bit, wanting more, and knowing I have to be patient as we weather the current economic conditions.
Hong Kong was teetering on the brink of a recession before the protests kicked off, some 15 weeks ago already, but now, we are in a recession, and its not looking great for most businesses, 40% down in most FnB businesses and many hotels have been running on 25% occupancy when they need at least 75% to be in the comfort zone.
We are lucky our business isn't supported by tourism, we are still very much supported by the community we cater to, so for that I am grateful. I guess I am also grateful for the fact I have nothing to compare my experience to, one day, years from now, I can look back on this and understand it much the same way I know how to read a map. For now, we wait.
As long as we keep doing what we have been doing, we will survive. We just need to be more conscious of how we operate, our food costing, avoiding items that are wasteful, maybe we will even have to trim our menu down a bit to a manageable number of dishes, I think as much as we love choice, its clear we have too many choices.
Its not easy to predict how things will turn out, Sometimes I lie awake at night and think about every bit of prep that needs to be done for the next day, and the next, and I think, "whats the point?"
Why do I do what I do?
And you know what comes to mind? Apart from this poem...the movie "Chocolat"!
Ever watched it? Its an old movie, well, old as I can call something old...and its about a woman who makes chocolate in this tiny french town and the chocolate she makes brings up all these suppressed emotions in the people who buy and eat her chocolate.
I am not saying I am the chocolatier lady, all I am saying is that I remember loving that movie, the idea of food and its connection to our emotions, food as love, food as happiness, food as nourishing and innately good, food as a feeling...its what impacted me the most when I watched that movie.
You know what it feels like when you eat something not great for you, you feel terrible afterwards.
And I am not saying food is something we do to feed our emotions, like, when people eat to fill an emotional void, almost like they are eating their emotions...
Food, good food, tasty food, clean food, for me, is about happiness, love, kindness, care, joy, patience, integrity, honesty and sharing.
Hmm, is that a run on sentence? I don't care, because, in the end, does it matter?
We break bread together, we communicate over a meal, we share...or we can even quietly look within, eat alone, and still enjoy a good meal and appreciate the effort that went into it. If there is any reason I do what I do, its because it makes me happy to share the kind of food that I would like to eat myself. Not everything we serve is a dish I would eat daily, not myself anyway, but everything we serve is a dish I am happy to eat. Hell, I barely eat, I have to remind myself to eat most days because we get busy and I lose my appetite after being around food all days long.
You know on my Sundays, our one day off, I eat out every single meal. I eat out because I don't feel like cooking or cleaning. If I cook, I cook for the kids, that is about it. I would be happy to just eat noodles all day if that were up to me, Sundays are a lazy day for me.
Have I gotten any better at taking care of myself? I can't say that I have. I keep meaning to, and then somewhere sandwiched between my "Whats the point" moments and my "I love what I do" moments is this thought about how there simply aren't enough hours in one day.
I need sleep, more than anything, I need a good nights sleep...and right now, I am sure I will finally get decent sleep in a few years time. I have eye masks from some fancy sleep focused website, Manta Sleep, their logo is a Manta...not sure what that sea creature has to do with sleep, but hey...super soft ear plugs to block out the noise...a weighted blanket that makes you feel like you are being hugged all night long...the whole lot. More pillows than you could ever dream of...and still my smartwatch clocks my sleep at an average of 5.5 hours a day.
I used to pride myself on getting 10 hours of sleep a day...and here I am, struggling to get to bed by 11pm only to wake the next morning before 6am. And so I do everything else I can to feel rested, short naps mid afternoon. Meditation in the morning. Avoiding caffeine after 12pm...and who knows what else, I am sure if I stopped making excuses for why I can't make it to the gym, I might actually be forced to organize my schedule in such a way as to make it all work. The one day I could be doing all that, ensuring I can get myself organized for making time for myself, is Sunday...and sadly, all I want to do is nothing on Sunday!
So maybe today I will do everything I can to ensure I get myself organized and actually make time for myself, make time for the gym, make time for my kids, make time for my spouse and make time for the future that I want to be living into.
I will sit down at the tiny table in our small apartment and I will hand draw the new menu so I don't have to make a mess of a crappy word document because I don't have any graphic design software or knowledge!
Yeah, maybe that is what I am going to have to do this evening :)
More hours, I need more hours in my day, and a side of fries with dip-dip!
We finally hit the one year mark on the 15th of May. Well, officially it was more like the 22nd of May because we opened our doors on the 15th of May 2018 not knowing what the hell we were doing, wholly unsure what to expect, and truly scared half to death of the "how to" and the "what to" of it all. When we opened on the 15th we had so much food and no one to eat it...we each had to take a lot of food home so as not to waste it. Its also how we came up with "tofu fries" because we had so much tofu we didn't know what to do with it!
Funny how a year can make all the difference.
Six months ago, I was curled up in a ball, crying my bleeding heart out, truly scared at the crazy task I had taken on. I think at the six month mark I realized, oh man, all this is on me. These guys, the team, they are depending on me for leadership, for everything from as simple as "we need more take away boxes" to "thank you for my paycheck".
I felt like...well, I felt like I was drinking water from a fire hydrant!
I felt like one of those crazy Japanese people who ride a giant tree trunk down a muddy hill for that Shinto festival (you gotto look that up!) in nothing but a kimono! I mean, there are bodies flying everywhere and the last man still on the darn thing is somehow blessed!
I truly felt like, "Oh man, this won't end, will it! I am IN it now, I have to see it through to the end!"
I was so full of ideals and optimism when I started, I just didn't realize the toll it would take on my body, my sanity, my family.
It was at about this point, exhausted, crying, having panic attacks, that I reached out to others who knew better.
The best advise I got was this:
"You need to take time to care for yourself, because in this profession, all you do is give, you give to your team, you give to strangers, you give to loyal customers who become friends, and if you don't take time to replenish your reserves of energy, your well will run dry, you will break down."
And then came the advise from my Doc, "Stop with the Jiu Jitsu, your body is in Fight or Flight mode as it is, take up yoga, meditate, slow down, work less..."
Blah, blah, blah...well, I stopped Jiu Jitsu, to lower my "fight or flight" response and my cortisol levels, I started meditating, I downloaded two super expensive apps, CALM and WAKING UP...you know, to help me get mindful! I moved house, well, WE moved house, so I could be so close to work I could practically smell the food...and initially that seemed like a good but bad idea, because I ended up going into work even earlier and leaving even later, but at some point I had to force myself to slow down, to take time for myself...more on that later, I guess. I even signed up for a yoga membership...I have gone six times since December...Its June now...so yeah, its just across the street, too! What can I say, it gets busy.
Now, that one, I simply haven't been able to figure out. I reckon I find a way to take a break more, but the hours are still just as long. What has happened in the last six months though, since my borderline nervous breakdown, is that I have learned to look within, I have made time for my family, even if its only on weekends or mid afternoon. I bought a fitbit to track how active I am during the day, and let me tell you, I did 22,000 steps yesterday and 36 flights of stairs...its no wonder I can't gain any weight despite sometimes eating utter rubbish.
Yes, I also take care of what I eat a lot better than I did 6 months ago. I was eating Dal and rice daily for almost 6 months, not taking time to eat much else unless it was chocolate. You know how it can be, you spend all your time cooking for people, you smell food all the time, that whole process of hunger and emotional experience that comes from food, it kinda gets eroded. You love to see food, you love to plate food, you love to cook food, you love to serve food, you love to watch people eat food, oh, that last bit, I love it! Lol. But...somehow, when its time for you to eat, its 4pm...and your fellow chef says, "So? what shall we eat?" and all you can think is..."I dunno, man! I don't know!"
Surrounded by food and you simply aren't clued in what you want to eat. You are physically hungry, but just...blank.
Anyway, what I am saying is, in my trying to work on eating right, I have also pushed the team to consider what they eat...we were all in the same boat afterall. So we do alright, I think. We are a solid little band of minions. I would never have expected that the plan I had, the dream I dreamed, would be a success. I love each and every one of them, fiercely. Even the ones I have had let go, often I sit awake at night and wonder how they are and wish that they are well.
Majority of the team has been with me from the start, it kinda makes me tear up to think that they are the people I see more than I do my own family. Its a strange thing when you come to accept that about "WORK". You know? You see those people more than your family, so you better make sure you are in the right place. You don't want to work for an asshole, so don't be one. At least, that is what I tell myself. I've worked for my fair share of psychopaths, and I always believed that in order to become a CEO, you got to be a psychopath, but then now here I am, when my business partner and I sad down to allocate titles, he said, "Ok, you be the CEO!" and I was like, waaaaaaaait a minute.....
I am pretty sure he took the title that gave him greater control in the end, we laugh, coz technically none of it means a darn thing, maybe, hmmm, personally I just want to create, I want to cook, I want to be around food, I want to see people eat the food I cook. That is as simple as it gets.
I love what I do.
I have learned the why of what I do. I have learned more with each passing day, of what I am capable of and how hard I am willing to push myself.
I love my team, I love so many of our customers, they give me so much in return for what I feel is just a drop in the ocean of positivity...
I have learned to appreciate my family more now than I could have ever done before.
My husband, that man, what a wonderful human being he is. He works so damn hard and is more present in the kids lives than I am, I could not do this without his support, his friendship, his love and his presence in my life.
There I go getting teary eyed again.
So much, so, so much to be grateful for.
This was the biggest part of my turnaround from near breakdown.
Practicing meditation and learning a Grateful Attitude.
It made the difference in my cortisol levels, it made the difference in how I viewed myself, it made a difference in my anger management, it made a difference in how I approached each day, it made a difference in every interaction and relationship I had, and it made a difference in how I view the business and the long haul.
I am grateful for everything I have now, this shop, Confusion...all of it, has taught me this.
My team, my customers, many of them now my friends, my beautiful husband, my kids who have learned to read in the last year without my help....my kids who can speak to me of how they miss me but also how they understand what I am doing and the why...I am grateful for my parents for instilling in me this urgent need to succeed and to make a difference in peoples lives. I am grateful for the suppliers I work with, each of them so hardworking too, and willing to respond to messages at ungodly hours...
Thank you, one and all, for teaching me why I am here, teaching me how I aspire to greater heights of creativity, teaching me that money isn't the be all and end all, its about the people in your life that matter...and thank you for waking this sleeping dragon.
Until the next time I decide to ramble...Mahalo!
My name's Lisa. I love to cook, I love to laugh, I love to write. I don't always believe I have the time for creating, and now I am going to work on simply going with the flow, with the food, the restaurant, the writing...and if I can, for one moment, spread a little joy along the way, well, its worth the effort.