Bad luck at Cote-des-Neiges

Year 2017 was a blur to me and as I am sitting in our new restaurant at 1448 St-Mathieu Montreal downtown I realize it’s time for me to back fill some blogs for the EVENTs about Cuisine AuntDai.

At around 3AM Oct 1st 2017, a suspicious fire destroyed the building of our restaurant at 5557A Cote-des-Neiges. I got the call from our landlord at around 9AM that morning saying my restaurant was destroyed by a fire and it was so surreal for me to have this kind of accident, on a day which is Chinese national day and as an immigrant from China, this day is still marked on my memory calendar. Something looks like being destined somehow. Cuisine AuntDai started from zero and slowly we got recognition from customers. With all the profits we accumulated we renovated the restaurant at the end of March 2017 and opened a new restaurant in Anjou. Then in October, this BIG fire destroyed the profitable, recently renovated CDN restaurant. When I dug out the insurance policy I was shocked if not destroyed to find out that our insurance coverage was minimal. To make things worse, the Anjou restaurant was still losing money as I mentioned in the previous blogs. We lost BIG financially this time. Myself and my wife worked so hard to keep our restaurant running and this fire was too much to bear. I am the kind guy who never loses hopes and always smiles to all the difficulties. At the times like this I need to help my wife to overcome this feeling of big loss. A lot of late nights, I spent time drinking beers with my wife at 3 Brasseurs and drew her some pretty pictures about Cuisine AuntDai’s future even the future was looking very bleak at that time.

For the first few days after the fire, I was cleaning the after life of the restaurant. When I was standing in the burnt down kitchen, I knew each inch of space and the emotion was powerful. Sometimes, I just feel life is not easy and it’s even unfair. The police said it was an arson but they could not catch the bad guy. You never thought some evil minded people could change your life this much.

With our main restaurant destroyed, we shifted all our focus on the restaurant in Anjou. We had few customers in Anjou and it was the beginning days of our first restaurant at CDN only with very low morale. When we started our business in Feb 2014, we were full of energy and prepared to deal with the slow start. For the month of October, alcohol was the comfort.

But for a week or two right after the fire, we did see an unusual increase of business for our Anjou restaurant. It was due to the fact that a lot of customer at CDN came to Anjou to support us after knowing the news of fire. But it was really too far for these customers and after the week of support, the business went back to normal low. I do appreciate all the support and wishes from our loyal customers.

After a month of depression, we had to think about the plan. To be honest, we were mentally tired and scared to think about reopening a new restaurant. And the financial risk of opening a new one was always a concern too. But a lot of our customers suggested us to reopen somewhere. If we don’t open a new restaurant at a better location, with only one in the far Anjou, it means a factual give-up on the brand Cuisine AuntDai which could bother us for a very long time to come. With all the good staff we have, no action means a give-up on them too, if we keep losing business, they will have to find better opportunities somewhere else. All these internal and open debates lead us to only one direction. We will gather ourselves and restart our journey as a owner of Chinese restaurants even it means more hard work and struggles following the decision.

From November 2017, we started looking for a place. The first choice will be somewhere close to the old restaurant but there was no available restaurant space of the size we would like. Then we looked at Brossard where there are a lot of Chinese population which is good for Chinese restaurant. We almost bought a restaurant at Brossard but the landlord was trying to have us take another space they had. After that we saw a restaurant for sale at Concordia downtown and after a quick negotiation the offer we made were accepted. With the eager to bring back Cuisine AuntDai, we opened our new restaurant on December 30th 2017. It was little bit rushed but I was thinking, the bad thing happened in 2017 we had to have a new one in 2017. We leave everything in year 2017 and wish good luck in year 2018.

The new restaurant is at 1448 St-Mathieu, H9H2H9, near Concordia Metro exit, 5149351067. I will tell more stories about this new restaurants in the next blogs.

We have two restaurants now, in Anjou and Downtown Montreal.

All the info about us is on our website http://www.auntdai.com

 

 

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When customers started to complain about us

We always enjoyed good reputation for our restaurant on Cote-des-Neiges and that’s what we’ve been striving to achieve from the very beginning.

After the renovation in the end of March 2017, we saw our customers like us more with the new look of the dining room. Our waitresses often received some compliments from our customers everyday. But for the month of June and July, they got a lot of complaints and I knew WHY.

Today I am explaining what happened during June and July 2017.

As you may already know, we opened a second Cuisine AuntDai Chinese restaurant in Anjou Montreal in the beginning of June 2017. In the planning of the new restaurant, we have to have more cooks to work in two AuntDai restaurants. I was preparing for the increase of kitchen staff for some time already, from two cooks to four cooks.

I had a big decision to make.

What is the relationship between these two kitchens? Should we have only one alpha chef or two alpha chefs and each one manages one kitchen. One alpha chef is very natural since my head chef was with us from day one. But the other head chef was not completely trained from our head chef and he came in with his own version of Chinese cooking. Everybody knows Chinese cuisine is way too complicated and every chef cooks a different way. This new second head chef got different skill sets and with all the negotiations and consultations with our staff and I made the decision:

My first head chef was assigned to the new restaurant in Anjou with a cook to help him.

The second head chef stayed at the Cote-des-Neiges restaurant.

The thinking was my trailblazer head chef will help us to open the new market in Anjou. And the original restaurant had regular customer basis already and as long as the second head chef follows the recipe, we should do well at Cote-des-Neiges too.

The reality was:

The second head chef did not follow the recipe or the instructions from the first head chef.

It’s like a new chef in town, we started having dramas.

I had to make a lot of phone calls with every employees.

Sometimes I brought some employees to talk or drink together and things did not get better.

The worst I feared was the satisfaction of the customers being impacted.

Almost everyday, we have some customers complained to our waitress and some of them are our loyal fans.

A lot of customers say we have the best General Tao Chicken in Montreal and during these two months, we even received complaints about this plate.

Also many many customers came to our restaurant for “braised pork belly with sweet potato noodles” AKA “Hong Shao Rou”, one regular customer directly told our waitress “please ask your boss to bring the previous chef back!”. And that’s what I heard from our customers and that’s what I did.

We all make mistakes but we should have the courage to correct them, it’s never to be late.

On 23rd July 2017, I did pull the plug. The second head chef was let go and I moved my first head chef back to the Cote-des-Neiges.

The new structure is:

The head chef overseas the two restaurant kitchens to make sure all the cooks cook the same way.

The level of quality and services was restored and we were trying to improve everyday.

From 24th July 2017 till now, we rarely hear negative feedbacks from our customers.

If any of our customers was not happy with our food at Cote-des-Neiges restaurant between June and July of 2017, we apologize.

Consistency of quality and service is our commitment to our customers.

We are always trying to serve you better.

How was our second restaurant doing?

On June 1st 2017, our second restaurant under the name Cuisine AuntDai opened it’s door in Anjou to customers. I was there in the morning, I did not expect many customers to come in and damn I was right. We did not advertise anywhere except a post on our Facebook page, I was hoping to start the business slow so that the quality would be guaranteed. As I mentioned before, this restaurant is deep in the residential neighborhood, no exposure to many pedestrians. There were only a few customers coming in on the first day since we did not plan any grand opening and we even did not have our restaurant name outside of the restaurant. The previous owner told me request the permit to change the name sign with Anjou city and I did but the city told me it would take about one month to get the new sign approved, rule is the rule, so we did not have the sign up for the first month of our opening which won’t help our business at all. In the first day of business we received so many phone calls for delivery but they were asking for combo #X of the previous restaurant. We didn’t combo options and our price looked too expensive comparing the previous restaurant and people on the other end of the telephone line were not happy with our new price. We didn’t get any customers through the phone (the reason we kept the same phone number in hope of getting some previous customers, looks like it’s not working).

The first week passed like this, very few customers each day. This really made me nervous, the low turnout number was way below my expectation. Then I realized that even Cuisine AuntDai had quite some loyal customers but down here in Anjou, we kind of have to build our customer base from scratch, from ZERO.

If we keep losing money like this we won’t last very long.

After the initial panic, I started to put all the options on the table.

I know we have great food and services and the number one priority is to get customers to try our food so they have chance to like us.

Realizing the importance of the advertisement is the first step of starting the business of Cuisine AuntDai Anjou.

To be continued……

 

Cuisine AuntDai has expanded to Montreal east Anjou.

With the moderate success we had in Cote-des-Neiges, I was always looking to expand our business into a second location. Some customers told me to open a restaurant in west island. To be honest, we would have best chance if you open a restaurant in west island. Starting in 2016, I started looking for a potential location to open a second restaurant. Risk is always the top concern for me, too many factors I have to weigh. Then nothing happened and we focused on the existing restaurant with a major renovation at the end of March 2017. You can see the details in the previous blog.

After the renovation, I was taking a deep breath and expected a long rest.

Then in May, an opportunity suddenly came to me.

A very nice Chinese restaurant was for sale in Anjou. The dining room and kitchen were almost perfect. It’s like a dream restaurant for me with a huge BUT. The golden rule, location, location, location. But the location for this restaurant was really at the lowest point. It’s deep into a residential neighborhood, not close to Metro station. Maybe for the reason of location, the previous restaurant did not do well and their main business was inexpensive delivery to the neighborhood. Yes, it was North American Chinese food. The previous owner offered it with a very attractive price and we worked out a deal within two weeks. For me, it’s a perfect opportunity to expand with a low upfront cost. But it came with a huge risk if we could not attract more business into this new restaurant. We started Cuisine AuntDai at Cote-des-Neiges from scratch and we expected an easier success since our AuntDai brand had some recognition already after three years of business.

Since we got the keys, we spent about two weeks to get the new restaurant ready and it was really rushed.

On June 1st 2017, our Anjou restaurant opened its door to our unknown customers. How did it go?

I will leave it to the next blog, it’s very late in the night now.

This restaurant has a bar with 7 bar chairs, a dancing pool, 100 seats inside and 60 terrace seats, here are some pictures.

Address 6381 Roi-Rene, Anjou, H1K3G4, 5149036222, www.auntdai.com

 

Renovation of the Cote-des-Neiges restaurant

Running a Chinese restaurant in Montreal was my experimental project at the beginning, we chose a low cost turn-key(means old, here) restaurant to start. After three years, we found that as we improved our food and services every day, we have more and more customers like us. The past three years showed the business model of Cuisine AuntDai is feasible and it’s worth continuing.

Over the time, we already replaced a lot of equipment in the kitchen. We bought a brand new Chinese stove from Toronto, a brand new commercial dish washer, new rice cookers and a rice warmer, several stainless steel work tables, and deep fryers. The kitchen was totally different from what we took over.

Then we needed a big change especially in the dining room.

We planned to have a one-week renovation at the end of March since the weather would be warm to carry out renovations and less customers around this time.

First, listed the areas we wanted to improve.

a), the paint in the dining room was old

b), the lights were old.

c), the water cooling unit was noisy and sitting at one corner, difficult to cool the whole room.

d), speakers were at one corner, it’s loud for some seats but very low for other seats

e), porch roof was broken and did not shelter well when it’s raining

f), storage room was in a bad condition, the floor and ceiling were broken.

g), kitchen walls were not all covered by ceramic tiles, difficult to clean.

 

We did not have experience or expertise to design a new dining room so we hired an interior designer.

The goal of the dining room renovation was a clean, simple, not-too-fancy design and easy to implement within the budget and one week time frame.

After two weeks communication with the designer and we got the final blueprint of the new dining room. It’s not been easy, the designer always tried to have pretty designs and I had to shut down a lot of propositions and chose the not-so-great options. After all I am a businessman, right?

After the final design was confirmed, we spent a lot time to buy all the materials and it’s really fun.

When the time came for the renovation, knocking down walls, it was crazy.

For that last week of March 2017, we worked day and night. And the restaurant was reopened on April 1st 2017 with a totally new look.

All of our customers liked our new look and they were also surprised we could do so much work within such short period of time. I would say, I am an engineer and like planning and I got so much support from a lot of people.

Here are what we achieved on the items:

a), the ceiling and walls in the dining room and wash rooms were repainted and we installed ceramic tiles at the back of the cashier and entrances as well to reproduce our orange/yellow stripes which are on our sign board. Also, we installed brand new bath room vanities.

b), we totally redesigned the layout of lights, adjustable hanging lamps over each table and adjustable spot lights on the ceiling.

c), removed the water cooling unit and installed two brand new AC split units, quiet and cool everywhere in the room.

d), installed Bose Freespace 3 sound system with in-ceiling speakers, really nice with great quality of sound. Also we installed a lot of power plugs along the wall so every table has at least one power plug so our customer can charge their laptop or cellphones.

e), the porch roof was repaired and RAINY days no more.

f), We poured cement in the storage room and the floor was leveled and painted with garage paint. Walls and ceiling were wrapped with stainless steel sheets. The storage room was almost perfect after this project.

g), we covered the walls in the kitchen with ceramic tiles, very easy to clean.

 

After the renovation, I was really excited but also exhausted. I even did not take many pictures of the new look dining room here are some only pictures I can find now.

 

Cuisine AuntDai is back Blogging

I can`’t recall when was the last time I wrote blogs about my Chinese restaurant of Cuisine AuntDai and sure, the time has wings, fast ones.

I did keep writing a lot of blogs in Chinese and if you read Chinese and are interested with my real experience of running a Chinese restaurant from far, by far I mean, not physically in the restaurant, please visit the website www.firstcrab.com to read the blogs.

From Feb 5th 2014, we opened our restaurant for the first time, too many things are worth remembering for life. The unbearable mental tormenting of seeing very few customer at the beginning of this business journey, seeing absolute no clear future. Then Montreal Gazette newspaper wrote a really nice review piece on their July 5th 2014 weekend edition claiming Cuisine AuntDai as Chinese restaurant version 2.0, I really admire the author`s creativity on this since I am an IT engineer, we do like giving everything a version number.

From the time point of this Gazette newspaper review, we were starting to break even and we saw some light at the end of the tunnel. From the very beginning, I held the belief of that with all my intelligence power and soft skills, I should be able to create a Chinese restaurant which can make customers happy, a Chinese restaurant carrying a good reputation and can last longer time way passing my retirement. Most of all, I want to have a Chinese restaurant that people really like, that`s the original dream, day time dream.

We worked hard and were really lucky, at the end of March 2015, CTV news audience voted Cuisine AuntDai as the number one best Chinese restaurant in Montreal. From the evening this news was aired on CTV news, customers were just pouring in and the phone kept ringing for the whole night. We’ve never seen so many customers in our small restaurant and for sure our staff in the kitchen were overwhelmed. To be honest, we made a huge mistake here. We did not have the man power to handle this MANY customers and when the business (or the money) was right in front of our eyes, we just could not move our eyes away from it and we kept overworking our kitchen and did NOT limit the available seats to reduce the numbers of customers which should have been the right move from hindsight. During that one month, we had so many customers coming and leaving without satisfaction. With the staff we had at that time we simply could not handle that amount of customers and we did not know how to manage that situation. Clearly, I did NOT know how to take this golden opportunity to push our restaurant to another level, at last, I do admit I lack that kind of business IQ and vision, we all learn from mistakes and grow as we age.

The kitchen was a total mess during that period of time and customers were no longer happy with us and we paused a little bit and regrouped to focus on the quality and staff training and with the increased customer base, we won back a lot of customers and have one foot on the firm ground.

For the majority of year 2016, we were doing well and a lot of customers liked us. It’s like on cruise control for a little bit time. Even we are a small Chinese restaurant on Cote-des-Neiges street, we got good reviews everywhere, Yelp, tripadvisor, Facebook, Google maps. Everything looked fine except the physical condition of the restaurant. The restaurant I took over was in a rundown building and there is no way the landlord would invest money to improve the building. You got do with whatever you have, I told my staff to make a nice room even it means to we need to do a lot more. If you have visited our restaurant before April 2017, you would tell the dining room was clean but really modestly decorated which was the nice way of our customers saying the place looked cheap. But with all the daily improvement and we saved some budget for complete makeover in year 2017.

Now if you come to Cuisine AuntDai on Cote-des-Neiges, it’s a nice cozy restaurant.

I will save the makeover for another blog since it’s really late in the night, I need to get some sleep.

See you next time. please check our website for all the information.

http://www.auntdai.com

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Montreal restaurant to celebrate Chinese New Year by DIY JiaoZi and TangYuan

Celebrate Chinese New Year! Make Jiaozi or TangYuan by yourself at Cuisine AuntDai.
18th February Wednesday is the Chinese New Year eve, at Cuisine AuntDai, starting 5PM, customers are welcomed to make fresh JiaoZi (dumpling) or TangYuan (rice dumpling). They are the most common food you can find on the tables for most families. We will have flour (or dough), filling and tools ready for you. They are free as long as you make them by yourself. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to make them, we will have one coordinator to help you also we will record a video to show you the steps this Sunday 15th Feb and the video will be available on our Facebook page.On the TV, we will show the annual Chinese New Year performance show all day long. Come and join us to celebrate!

please check out the Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cuisine-Auntdai/709936439039680?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

http://www.auntdai.com

Montreal Chinese restaurant uses Facebook likes for membership

We often want to thank our loyal customers with something we can offer which is some free food.

We were thinking of a membership card to our customers so we can give them some free food or get them involved with our special events such as restaurant anniversaries or Chinese New Year celebrations. We looked at the membership card systems available on the market, they are either expensive for us or they are too simple too primitive technically.

Then we come to the easy solution, use Facebook likes as our way of tracking membership.

looks like everybody is having a smartphones with them now either with cellular data plan or not and we have a free WIFI at Cuisine AuntDai. So if you want you show us you are a member of this family, simply show our waitress on your own mobile device that you liked our Facebook page.  You will get the promotion deals available at the time.

As a pilot project, we would offer our Facebook fans a free soup for January 2015. You can find the details on our Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cuisine-Auntdai/709936439039680?ref=hl

Also, don’t forget to visit our website http://www.auntdai.com to have more info about us.

I guess we are the only Montreal Chinese restaurant uses Facebook likes for membership and let’s find out how does it work.

Chinese restaurant Cuisine AuntDai invites you to celebrate one year anneversary with free meals

Time does fly.

After so many baby steps since February 2014, Cuisine AuntDai has grown into a joyful and strong kid now. First birthday is well in the sight, we are very glad to say we stand by what we set out at the beginning of this journey which is to provide tasty authentic Chinese food and great services to our customers. We went through highs and lows and we got a lot of happy loyal customers and some of them even becomes friends with us and sometimes we share personal stories together at Cuisine AuntDai. As the owner of this restaurant, I met so many great people in the past year which is the best experience for me and I shall cherish that as the most valuable in my life.

We will provide free meal on this special day. For the details, please check our website http://www.auntdai.com

or visit our Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cuisine-Auntdai/709936439039680?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Best Chinese restaurant in Montreal

Which restaurant is the best Chinese restaurant in Montreal?

This question is not an easy one and to be honest we don’t have many good ones in Montreal comparing Toronto where you can find so many of them.

In Montreal, the big ones are always Cantonese/HongKong style, like Kam Fung and Cristal Chinois. For the Chinese food from north of China, for north, I mean other than GuangDong, HongKong. We have a few, usually the size of the restaurant is not big and they are mainly found either in Chinatown or near Concordia university.

Cuisine AuntDai is located on the Cote-des-Neiges street and few minutes drive from the golden mile. It has 42 seats and benefits from not having the big crowd from downtown, we can focus on the quality of food and service. Here you can find some really authentic Chinese food being prepared with passion and dedication.

We try to become one of the best Chinese restaurants in Montreal and trying very hard to be the best. It will be anybody’s call but that’s our goal. If you ask a Chinese friend around you who likes soccer, they probably know the motto of Beijing GuoAn soccer club, Always trying to be the best. Lot of times, they came at the second place, I don’t remember they ever got a champion title. But I like their attitude, always trying to be the best.

If you come to visit us, we won’t let you down.

You are more than welcome to list the dishes you like on our menu or some good Chinese restaurant in Montreal and the reason why by replying this blog.

Thanks

Cheers.

Cuisine AuntDai website www.auntdai.com