Diary of a Food Entrepreneur Posted by: | August 24, 2013
 

the KAfe Entrance

 

3 months again have passed since I last blogged. It felt like a year! Over the past 3 months, me and my Kitchen Art and KAfe team have successfully opened the KAfe - the cafe/restaurant of our dreams. Everything we ever envisioned and believed about natural good food, drinks, warm desserts and an urban-casual cafe experience, came to life and now has a spot on the map in Hanoi! (18 Dien Bien Phu street). For those who want to read more about the KAfe, check out the official press release here

 

the KAfe “Sun Room”

 

Until today, I still can’t believe my own eyes when I watch our service everyday. Looking at our dedicated front service team working tirelessly to bring smiles to every customer, or our passionate chefs whipping out wonderful dishes consistently everyday, or our bartenders standing all day mixing refreshing drinks and comforting teas and coffees – all following the style and food philosophy we set out since the beginning – just brings tears to my eyes (yes, sometimes I have to turn away to hide my eyes clouding up in the middle of the cafe). And I have officially completed my food journey full circle from being a foodie to a food blogger to Kitchenware & cooking studio business owner to now, a restaurant owner – in 3 years. 

 

the KAfe “Glass Room”

 

We are barely open for two weeks, and all our tables have been filled up every single tea and dinner service. You may say, now I have finally tasted the sweet taste of success and dream come true. Yes, it is an overwhelming feeling, but coupled with an insane amount of pressure to keep this dream alive and beautiful for months, years to come! Also, it is no overnight success. It is a long, hard journey that constantly tested my strength, faith and patience. So instead of telling you all the inspiring notes of another “dream come true” story, let me break it down to you – the REAL deal. Here it goes, the true facts of a Food Entrepreneur…

 

 

the KAfe Bar

 

1. A LOT of No – thrown at your face

 

As any entrepreneur, you probably are used to this by now. Investors telling you no, family telling you no, friends telling you to get a life etc. But setting up a food outlet is a whole new level of getting slapped in the face constantly: investors telling you no (of course, who would want to spend such an insane amount on a cafe with a model never before seen in Hanoi?), contractors telling you no (big kitchen equipments do take months to produce and shipped to Vietnam), architect telling you no (it is always not possible to meet your required budget or timeline), and staff telling you no (you can only push them that much)…

 

2. Saying “No” and NOT taking a “No” as an answer

 

I have probably not said “No” so many times in my life. When somebody says “No” to me (see above scenarios), I respond with a “No – there’s gotta be another way”. More importantly, when someone tries to compromise my vision of the KAfe, it is a BIG FAT NO. Whether it is food, style, staff management or marketing direction. If you are not firm and clear about your vision, then nobody will know what to follow or listen to. Not even your staff, let alone your customers. 

 

3. Expect a lot of people to talk down on you

 

Hearing “No” is just the tip of the iceberg. Though your dream may be beautiful and you paint a wonderful projection of your cafe, to others, it is just another fairy tale. Expect family, friends and other people close to you to show doubts and urge you to bail or reconsider very early on in the process. It’s always either “the economy condition is unfavorable” or “the industry is too competitive”. If you are blindly ambitious like me, you will get through this phase and get more trash talk when you have spent 80% of your capital and still have no sign of income and work 24/7 non stop with no end in sight to get the damn place to just OPEN. And trust me, the closer you are to them, the more they give you the “ugly truth”. At this point, you can choose to listen and freak out, or just trust your own crazy guts and push on. 

 

4. Have tissues always on hand, because there will be a lot of TEARS

 

I may be labelled as an emotional female entrepreneur who has crazy emotions going on, reacting to the 1001 things that go wrong in a day, but being able to cry and admit weakness is sometimes important – we are human, we fall. At those times, your staff, your family will be the first ones to help you to get yourself together and not skip that meal at the end of the day. So don’t try to hold it in too much. It is liberating to cry yourself to sleep after an emotionally exhausting day and wake up to fight it another day (nevermind the puffy eyes)! If only I had a penny for each tear I have shed for the KAfe…

 

5. Get your hands dirty. Very dirty.

 

Before you can convince any of your staff to be as crazy as you, first you got to do all the shit you ask them to do yourself. Expect nothing less and nothing more. So staying on the ground, breathing the same dust and touching the same dirt will help you bond with the team and see everything clearer. It is not micro management, it is being hands-on and real. There is more you can learn from your staff and people on the ground than anywhere else! I made a point to spend the last 2 weeks of construction and set up with my team on site. We weathered storms (literally) while dividing tasks among us as much as we can. This is not the time to be hero and do everything yourself. You will break down. Share the load of your staff, and be the bridge of communication between them, because they will break down if you don’t hold them together. 

 

6. Whatever can go wrong, WILL go wrong

 

It is Murphy’s law in full force. During set up, and even during real service run. The only way to avoid this is to actually “go wrong” and learn from it. No matter how much I try to remind my team of what to avoid, during high time, nobody will remember. So it is important to make as many mistakes as possible and learn from it. The bigger the mistake, the longer you will remember it. People say the KAfe has great service. That is because we allowed ourselves to make a ton of mistakes during our test run and first days of real service, or even today. Being yelled at by customers is horrible, but they are the best teachers one can find. So as our skin grows thicker, so does our wisdom. 

 

7. Always, ALWAYS believe in who you are

 

It is one thing to satisfy customer personal taste, but another thing to know who you are and what you serve. There are a million different options out there, and if you try to fit every different taste, you will end up being forgettable or just the next best thing. We have been very attentive to customer feedback about our food, but also stand by our choice of taste when it comes to signature styles. After all, even tastes are acquired and learnt over time. So just because they do not get it now, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t in future. Just look at Lady Gaga. She’s weird at first, then cool, then weird again, but always firm in who she is or what she believes in. And over time, her weirdness becomes who she is and we love her for her unique style! 

 

8. Forget your previous so-called “normal life”

 

Because it no longer exists. Your busiest hours are noons, afternoons, evenings and weekends. And when things are not busy on the front, you are busy prepping for next service. As long as there is human activity on the streets, you have to be ready from back to front, which involves a million and one things on a checklist. If you think people in the food industry have a happening life because they are always dining and entertaining, you are so wrong. Most of the time, they probably don’t have proper meals or even time to go to the toilet (and when you do have time to go toilet, you probably try to double efficiency by inspecting the toilet cleanliness and top up toilet papers, soap if necessary). It is a big sacrifice and only those with insane passion for the food world would be able to take it. 

 

Wow. 8 points already. Let’s stop here for now. If you like what you read, let me know, I will share more on my crazy journey in next entry. I want to make an effort to share my experience of being an entrepreneur in Vietnam from now so others who are considering to enter this crazy world can have some form of reference. And hopefully I get invited to the next Start Up gathering event (which I never am!!!) *laugh*

 

 

Oh, and do drop by the KAfe if you are in Hanoi. And say hi to me if you see me :) Meanwhile, enjoy the food porn I have been posting from the KAfe such as below, as I continue my daily battle of making it in the food world (and making enough money to feed my growing team!). 

 

the KAfe signature dish: Beef Ragout Fresh Pasta 

 

 

18 Responses to “Diary of a Food Entrepreneur”

  1. Anh.V says:

    i totally understand what you’ve experienced, i can feel how passionate you are and i believe you will do even better and better ..stay strong and keep going! I would like to know more about your journey :) ))

  2. Tra My Nguyen says:

    You’re always the one that I admire because of your passion on food.
    I just wonder why you have not applied for MasterChef competition yet?
    I really want to see KitchenArt brand along with you as a candidate in MasterChef Vietnam.

    • Chi Anh says:

      @Tra My: I didn’t apply MasterChef because I simply have no time! One month is a long time to be away from my business… Anyways, Kitchen Art was a sponsor of the show and I was also a guest judge in Hanoi round, so it’s all good :)

  3. Tu Anh says:

    Lots of luck to you and your new business ! It’s amazing and inspiring to see how you turned your dream to the vivid reality. What you wrote in this entry reminds me of this quote by Michael Hogan, president of University of Connecticut. He said “Say yes. In fact, say yes as often as you can. Saying yes begins things. Saying yes shows things grow. Saying yes leads to new experiences, and new experiences will lead to knowledge and wisdom. Yes is for the young”. Thank you for sharing this beautiful experience. What a truly inspiring story to keep me staying with my crazy dream.

    PS: My cousin is working at KA. You must do things right because she loves working there a lot ^^

  4. V says:

    You are by far the toughest seal i know; hat’s off to your passion and determination. It’s a priviledge to know about your dream from the early days and now see that coming true. Cant wait to taste the beef ragout pasta there in December, i’m sure it will be legend…wait for it…

  5. Đông Nguyên says:

    Hi Chi Anh,
    I have known you for a while from the first fews of Kitchen Art video posted on Youtube. My first impression on u is that a Hanoi-an girl didnt speak Vietnamese fluently showing how to make a lazy Chocolate cake in 5 mins. Let me tell u that I followed ur recipe and it was good ^0^. Then I have “silently” followed ur journey from Kitchen Art to Online Store and now The Kafe! I just simply read your little steps on the journey to the Kafe opening and understand deeply that if we do the things we truly love, we can overcome every challenges to make a difference. Ur journey inspired me a start my own journey in a very close future.
    Thanks for sharing Chi Anh.
    I would love to pop by the Kafe right now but it’s impossible. I havent been to Ha Noi before actually haha although my best friend is living there. The Kafe will definitely be the first place I visit when I go to Ha Noi :) .
    Cheers,
    Nguyen

    • Chi Anh says:

      @Nguyen:
      It’s amazing that I have followers like you! I always wonder if there is anyone who knows everything I do apart from the cooking videos. Apparently you do :) I’m glad my journey inspired you. At the end of the day, if you put your mind onto something you love and live for, you will achieve it. You just have to spend a lot a lot of time and effort on it, more than anybody else. Then you’ll get there! I guess you stay in HCM city? Yeah come by the KAfe when you are in town! Thanks for reading my blog :) Welcome to the crazy, lonely world of pursuing dreams!

      • Đông Nguyên says:

        It’s nice to hear back from you. At the moment, Im studying in Sydney for my final semester (finally lol). I was born in Da Nang City but I will start my career journey in HCM city coz my family now decided to move there. I love Ha Noi although I never got a chance to go.
        I hope to catch u very soon, will come to say hi if I see ya there. Otherwise I will write my experience at the Kafe and Kitchen Art store on this :) .

  6. Tram Lucy says:

    Love your writing, babe! I know you will do great! You are forever my inspiration and partner in crime! xox

  7. Thuy Tran says:

    Hello chi Chi Anh,

    Thank you for this GREAT post! You know what, just during lunch today me and a bunch of my friends since primary school were just talking about opening something for our own to make more money since we think we can never buy a house/ a car or whatever with just our 9-5 job salary (And of course we are just a bunch of naive girls who have never opened anything ever :D ) Anyway, after coming back from the lunch, I thought I should google to see what you share about opening the KAfe. By the way, I’ve been to the KAfe twice since last Sunday and absolutely LOVE it! My most favourite place to dine out now! Love the food, love the settings, love the location, love the staff and oh my god the VIBE!) I found this entry and let me tell you this, this post is so inspiring that I just texted my best friend to make her promise that we would definitely open something together in the future. I’m not sure when, but we’ll definitely do that. Thank you for doing what you’ve been doing so far and thank you for recording your great journey along the way to empower and remind all of us of our true passion.

    • Chi Anh says:

      Hi Thuy,
      Your comment made my day :) Yeah the KAfe has a very unique vibe that truly reflects the passion and drive of each of the team member! Whatever you do, make sure everything you do is driven by the same force that makes you want to get out of bed every morning! See you at the KAfe ;)

  8. Hana Nguyen says:

    OMG I hv been at the Kafe this summer but had no idea its ur coffee shop.
    I love the drinks n the atmosphere there
    Hvnt had chance to try the foods yet but probably will do next time when Im back to Vietnam.
    Anyway, you have done a great job and I wish all the best for u and ur Kafe in the future ahead ;) x

    • Chi Anh says:

      Hi Hana, it’s great to know a reader on my blog actually came to the KAfe :) Too bad you didn’t try the food! I’m very proud of it. We are adding new dishes so come back soon! Thanks for your well wishes. It is still an exciting journey ahead~

  9. Musashi says:

    Looks great, I come back to Hanoi this New year holiday and will definitely visit the Kafe! The food porn surely look better than most of the European cafe I’ve been :) . Also I admire your strength, keep the good work ;)

  10. Thu Hang says:

    Hi Chi Anh,
    It’s really cool reading your entry, ‘cos we (my fiancee and me) are on the way to open our cafe in Paris. As my fiancee kept on his research for our concept and style for our cafe, he encountered the address of The Kafe and was very interested, at the same time impressed, by your cafe. We understand totally what you have encountered and taken a good buns of lessons for our following steps. Thank you for sharing and we will come over the Kafe when we are back in Hanoi. ;)

    • Chi Anh says:

      wow you gotta let me know where you open in Paris so I can visit. I have been wanting to go to Paris a long time! Thanks for reading my blog! I will update it soon with new insight on running a cafe in Vietnam ;)

  11. Ganesh says:

    Dear chi anh
    ‘”So as our skin gets thicker, so does our wisdom”
    I really like that.. In many ways you have broken down many barriers in achieving something this huge.. Not only in terms of the project itself but the number of obstacles and prejudices that were thrown at you..
    Add all that to a very delightfully and well constructed account.. 8 great points!
    Can’t wait to see those pictures you have posted “live” myself
    Congratulations and may you long reap the benefits of your very hard work!
    In awe, Ganesh

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