My year 2021!

Today is Jan 3rd 2022 and I find some time to write this blog.

We are in the third year of this pandemic and Quebec premier François Legault announced the lockdown and curfew on Dec 30th 2021 and took effect on the new year eve. Restaurants have to close the dining room for these new lockdown measures.

It came at the right time of the new year eve which is the busiest time of the year for most restaurants. For our restaurant I would see less income since we still have pickup and delivery. But for those restaurants heavily relying on the dine-in, it could be a huge blow for example the brunch restaurants, all-you-can-eat restaurants and steak-house restaurants. They must have stocked up a lot for their upcoming new year rush hours and a lot of materials would be wasted as well.

I guess the premier was caught by surprise by the development of the Omicron virus and restaurant owners were caught by surprise by the next-day-effective lockdown measures, anyway, that’s the reality of the year 2021.

Here is my reflection of the year 2021.

It started with a lockdown in Quebec without vaccines and ended with a lockdown with vaccines and a record number of positive cases and hospitalizations.

The curfew started at 8PM in January 2021 while it started at 10PM in January 2022, some progress at least, positive thinking!

After New Year’s Day, January usually is a low month for restaurant business and it started that way for us too for early 2021.

Then came the tweet from mighty Kim Belair on January 10th 2021 and this event helped us a lot. Please give Kim a follow on Twitter @BagelofDeath. 

I did a lot of media interviews after that tweet and for some time I felt I was famous. A lot of friends gave me advice on how to take advantage of this fleet of fame and make it last much longer. 

A lot of ideas were fighting against each other in my head. At the end of epic battles, only one idea stood tall on the field. Try hard to stay true to myself and try NOT to be someone I am really NOT. But this luck did remind me to engage with social media more.

I started over with my YouTube channel(posted a friendly local soccer game several years ago) and Twitter account (used to learn English 10 years ago, deactivated and reactivated recently). I ate every dish on our menu in front of my iPhone to explain them and these videos are on my YouTube channel and each individual video link was put in the description of that dish on the online menu.

By theory customers would be able to know exactly what each dish would look or taste like and they could have more chances to enjoy the food after checking the videos before ordering them.

Throughout eight years of running this restaurant I have had chances to meet a lot of great customers, great people. Some conversations make me appreciate more and more peoples’ stories including my own. Being an immigrant from China I have a lot of interesting memories about my past and living in Montreal is a great experience for me.   

I want to record original stories from a lot of people in Montreal, anyone who has any connections to Montreal, visitors, travelers, recent immigrants, citizens are welcomed to be part of my video series “Eat With The Owner”. We will eat and chat for about 2.5 hours (or any length you like), no cutting or editing to the video and we keep it very original.

Our first guest Mical Moser joined the video on June 28th 2021 and in the past 6 months we have had 22 guests already. I am so lucky to be able to know them and record their stories on video. This is a huge achievement for me and I am so grateful that many people are willing to share their stories with me in front of a camera. I hope in the future I can interview a lot more people in Montreal and together we can make a mosaic of the experience of Montreal.

As a Chinese restaurant owner, I experienced a lot of business struggles in the past (and ongoing) and I can totally relate to the hardship of some of my fellow restaurant owners. In the year 2021 I promoted several local restaurants on my social media and I will keep doing that and support local businesses.

In the past year, I spent most of my time cutting vegetables and listening to podcasts at the same time. Taking orders and packing food. From the end of July to the end of December 2021(lockdown), when our dining room was open for the first time since March 2020, I often worked as a waiter inside the restaurant. 

I guess by listening to podcasts and shooting “Eat With The Owner” videos with guests I improved my English a lot.

Also I spent some time self learning French.

And our restaurant is NOT bankrupt yet.

I think I had an OK year in 2021.

Somehow I am not too excited about the year 2022 and I didn’t post new year greetings or resolutions on social media. Maybe I am tired, physically and mentally.

I just realized that I now have an answer to the question I am often asked, what is my favourite dish at Cuisine AuntDai?

For the traditional Chinese dishes, I would pick “Braised Pork Belly with Sweet Potato noodles” aka “Hong Shao Rou”, here is the video, please do watch it before you order it.

For the Canadian Chinese dishes, I would recommend “General Tao Chicken”, no AKA.

Here is the video, still recommend you watch it since we may have a different version from other Chinese restaurants.

Here are the new episodes of “Eat With The Owner”.

For those who wonder if the dog in the picture is mine. I have to point it out that we met at a farm for the first time in the summer of 2021. The dog was so friendly and all over me right after we saw each other. Sometimes I hope people are friendly and passionate like that too. Ohh, little bit less!

A great customer from Ottawa

Today is Nov 23rd 2021 and it’s the middle of the night already. I feel I have to write this article to express my appreciation of a postcard and photo from Tanya Hewitt today.

This mail could have arrived several days ago but I just picked it up this morning. I have to admit I don’t check the mailbox in the restaurant that often.

Here is how I met them.

One night in September 2021, three customers came in. When I talked to them, one of them started joking with me right away, later I found out his name was Robert. I really like people with a great sense of humor with strangers and I told him that he must be a comedian or someone doing public speeches. I guess I was not too off. I threw jokes back at Robert and I got more time to know his two friends, Tanya and her husband. It turned out Tanya was the hero of the story. She heard my story on CBC national radio “As It Happens” which is a very popular show and I was interviewed by the host Caral Off. She lives in Ottawa and some business or personal reason brought her visiting to Montreal so she paid a visit to our restaurant.

I always enjoy exchanging stories with our customers and they seemed to enjoy the conversations as well. So I spent a lot of time chatting with them and also I brought a bottle of sake to drink with them and took photos too. It was a great time for me to know them personally and that’s a huge reward for me as a restaurant owner. Having this restaurant is a huge burden to me, physically and mentally, especially compared to my rather easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy full time IT job. But, with all the hardship of running this restaurant, a huge reward to me is that I can meet a lot of people, talk to them, know their stories, see a lot of ideas, feel a lot of beautiful souls. I always think people’s minds are the most beautiful thing in this far-from-good world.

She mentioned she wrote some articles, from what I could tell, Tanya could write very well while Robert talks a lot. And Tanya’s husband doesn’t have a lot of words in front of strangers. Tanya told me she would write an article about me someday. And she did, and it’s Robert who sent me the link through Facebook. 

The article was beautifully written and there are a lot of good words describing me and I think “I am not THAT good”. I am just a guy trying to better myself and live a meaningful life. I have so many shortcomings and I am not brave sometimes. I had so many dreams but kept waking up. Reading this article makes me realize that as long as I keep working hard and be more truthful, more and more people will encourage me.

Now Tanya mailed a hand-written postcard and the photo we took together.

Very thoughtful and touching.

Now it’s really late at night. I have to rest, otherwise I may have black eyes tomorrow morning.

I made two videos of the “Eat With The Owner” series.

Also, I am staring to upload the audio only version of the “Eat With The Owner” to my Spotify channel.

The link is here.

How to deal with a future of uncertainty

Today, November 15th of 2021, we are still in the middle of this pandemic. It looks like the cases are stable in Quebec after the majority of the population are vaccinated but you don’t see the end of it and it could well drag on for at least a year or even longer.

Inflation is a huge challenge for everybody now. After almost two years of less production, basing one supply-demand system, the inflation is a natural result. The question is how much higher the inflation will go in the near future.

The shortage of staff is driving up wages for a lot of industries. If you are a worker and you may find it’s in your favor now. But with inflation reducing the purchasing power, your salary increase could be easily erased. Plus, in the long term, a lot of businesses may be forced to close and job opportunities may decrease dramatically over time if an economic crisis happens. I am not an expert on the economy but if the whole society is producing less and less, at one point, things could break.

As a small business owner, both inflation and shortage of labor are squeezing us on top of less sales.

It concerns me a lot recently and I am not sure about the future of my restaurant. Sometimes I feel pretty down then I find some positive signs or at least I have to make myself think positively. I have a lot of friends, full-time employees or business owners, they feel uneasy with the current economic picture. 

We are entering a period of uncertainty and I hope this article can help some people to relax a little bit.

I am a believer of the market system and I think the market itself will find a balance after some time.

The situation of inflation right now is the cumulative result of labor shortage due to the pandemic. The trend may continue for some time but once the pandemic situation is getting better more people will join back the labor market to push up the production and drive down the price. 

What we can do right now is to weather this storm and stay calm. When the storm comes you stay low and protect yourself. After it’s gone the sunshine will resume.

As an employee, you can focus on your skills and inflation won’t affect you much right now. Just keep some savings and try not to borrow too much. You will be more than fine.

This is mainly for small business owners. 

A good percentage of small businesses suffered a lot during this pandemic already and I have the experience firsthand. This is especially true for restaurant owners. When the shipping containers became a huge issue starting July 2021 the cost of food just took off. I was panicking once in a while since then and still I don’t see any improvement on either labor market or food cost.

My worries about the business future are like riding a roller coaster. 

Here is how I deal with the feeling of uncertainty. I hope it may help others with similar situations or help myself.

1)The pandemic will end sooner or later.

2)As long as we focus on improving our products and services the business and profit margin will bounce back when things come back normal.

3)The market will balance out the inflation either by raising prices and wages, some businesses may raise the prices earlier or later, at the end of the day, it will balance. When the labor market is back to normal the market will promote efficiency through competition like usual everything will fall into their places.

4)Canada has a good social safety net and even you fall a little bit at one point. If you keep improving you will come back up really quick.

5)For myself, in this strange period of pandemic I have a lot of time to improve my English by listening to podcasts. Knowing that I am improving everyday makes me feel happy. You can find something you want to work on and feel good when you achieve something even though sometimes you may lose a little bit financially.

6)Always adapt to a changed environment and stay positive. Everything will turn out fine.

7)If you still feel uneasy I may be able to help you. Let’s talk on my interview video “Eat With The Owner”.

In the meantime I spent some time recording some interviews with a lot of great guests.

Here are the links to these YouTube videos and you can always find my channel by searching “Feigang”.

You can support me by subscribing to my channel.

Canada General Election during the pandemic

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Supreme Leader, Make it pointy!

I am really shocked to hear we are going to have a federal election in September because Justin Trudeau chose to dissolve his minority government.

As a small restaurant owner it may be wise NOT to talk about politics since my point of view could upset some customers. But I don’t think a lot of people will read my blogs and it won’t be a big deal, this is more a record of what I am thinking right now.

I do think a lot and watch many videos to improve my English but I am politically homeless. I like some ideas on one side and like some other policies on the other side. It is more practical to see different policies on different issues, case by case, like they say, devils in the details.

Everybody may agree that small businesses suffer a lot during this pandemic. It’s almost impossible for the owners of closed businesses to vote for him.

The motive of Justin Trudeau to give up his prime minister position to take the chance of an election must be his calculation of winning a majority government.

So he is very confident that he did a good job so far after seeing a favorable polling number for him before his BIG decision. People and businesses are suffering now. To avoid more Covid cases or hospitalizations, people cannot return to offices and businesses in downtown areas are ruined, operations are postponed, people cannot see their loved ones. Now for the election, tens of millions of people need to come out to vote (gathering maybe) and people gather together to count votes afterwards,  only for him to become majority PM from current minority PM, this is called GREED, this may well backfire on him. 

It’s like your house is on fire, instead of trying your best to put out the fire, the leader of the house tries to grab more power by holding an election. Madness!

The decision to call for a new election in this pandemic may deduct 10 points from him already. The fact that he thought he did well so far is troubling as well. The economy is really bad, lack of productivity,  huge inflation, business bankruptions, and the only thing he did was to hand out money (deficit, I am totally OK to help out the people who need it) and buy a lot of vaccines (I give some credit to him for this). His performance and miscalculation of his winning odds show he is INCOMPETENT!

To be fair, I will throw out some ideas here to show why I am saying he is incompetent!

At the beginning of the pandemic, we could have set up some factories in Canada to produce PPE and ventilators since we have a lot of land and low cost clean electricity. With the automation now, setting up factory lines is not very labor demanding. 

Work with American pharmaceutical companies to get the license and authorization to produce vaccines in Canada, so we will have a lot of vaccines ourselves and help other nations. I guess this will boost his EGOs.

When the Canada-China relationship was at its lowest point he chose to co-develop a vaccine with China, is that reverse-thinking? Pure GENIUS, and we all know what happened to that, right? Please note, in Canada we do have first-class bio labs and top-notch researchers and pharmaceutical companies. Probably we could develop a good vaccine by ourselves. Joining force with American peers would put Canada in a much better position on the vaccine front.

Set up factories to produce rapid test kits under US license and use these rapid tests to safeguard important facilities for example meat producers, farms, transportation companies, 

Long term care homes, key businesses. If manpower is not enough for some key industries, we should put soldiers to help since we may not need them to defend our country during this pandemic. The army did help some senior residents in Quebec and Ontario, credit here.

He is from Montreal and we have the most potholes in the whole world. When his highness was bumping into the air in his car, I am wondering if he thinks it’s a bouncing castle experience, he may like the fun. Everybody knows it’s the corruption that causes the bad quality of the road and no leaders have the courage or willingness to fix it. To track the accountability of the construction companies will be an easy solution. This shame is on different levels of leadership not only on him.

Talk about leadership, with my limited knowledge, I see a lot of incompetency in our public sectors. In Montreal, they wanted to limit the plastic bag usage, they passed bylaws to ban thin plastic bags and can only use thick plastic bags hoping people will reuse them. The reality is people still use them as single-use only, it’s not as strong as cloth green bags, this simply adds more plastic usage per bag. If you want people to use less plastic bags you need to provide a feasible alternative, for example, cheap paper bags. For restaurant takeout, you have to have either plastic bags or paper bags, when you pass laws to force them to only use expensive paper bags, you simply assume restaurant owners have a lot of extra money to absorb this extra cost especially after the bleeding during this pandemic. We can have solutions to provide cheap paper bags, remember we have plenty of pulp in Canada, we are famous for that. The government can encourage more factories here to produce paper bags, worst case, subsidise them a little bit. When you have this industry strong, it will protect the environment and create jobs.

For recycling paper and plastics, have you noticed almost all the recycle trucks mix the stuff from recycle bins with soiled dirty stuff, they simply send them to landfill. It’s just a feel-good show wasting people’s time and money. It’s like people pretending to be sleeping, so funny, all the leaders chanting “protect the environment”, when can we be real? If you don’t believe me, please follow some recycling trucks to see for yourself.

If you really care about the environment, you need to foster a chain of companies to process the recycled materials, to make sure they can have the efficiency to make money.

I notice the automatic can/bottle recycling machines in most grocery stores are really good. I believe the aluminum cans and plastic bottles recycled there can be reused efficiently. But those machines only accept certain preset bar codes on the can or bottle. In my opinion, the government could work with these beverage companies to set up a standard for barcodes on their bottles. To recycle easily, prefer the aluminum first, plastic second and glass last. All imported beverage drinks follow the same barcode standard. Also we can expand this outside of beverages. This way, recycling companies can make profit and much less stuff goes to landfills.

Please take advantage of the information technologies, we are in 21 century. We could achieve all of these easily, transparently and cost effectively.

In Canada, most electricity comes from clean hydro-power and we are so blessed with the abundance. Canada should be the best electric car market and manufacturer. We should have worked with Tesla to set up a lot of Mega factories in Canada, please check their automation assembly line videos, it’s so efficient and high-tech. Here in Canada we have a lot of land, clean electricity and a lot of talents as well, the government should extend their hands to Elon Musk. If you really love the environment, show us.

Even though we don’t have good terms with Elon Musk on setting up factories here we should at least subsidize a lot to have all cars sold here electric since we have the CLEAN cheap electricity!

Every time I sit in traffic knowing all the cars are burning gasoline doing nothing I feel bad about the environment. All the leaders are talking about protecting the environment, fixing the traffic, and changing to electric cars!

Remember we are part of G7 and I have to Google it to see what it means.

The G7 (Group of Seven) is an organization of the world’s seven largest so-called advanced economies.

Now look at Canada, what industries are we leading?

Justin Trudeau already patted on his own back saying he did a good job already.

You have been in power for almost 6 years, what results have been achieved?

In my own opinion, you have already proven you are NOT capable of leading this beautiful country. You don’t have to be good at everything. Personally I like you but this is not a job for you.

You are very handsome and charming, you have a lot of fortune and bear a great family name. People having half of what you have should already be very satisfactory. You don’t have to pursue fame, you cannot have it all. Sometimes egos do hold you down. If you suck on this very important post, leave the chance to others who may be really good at it since it’s really important for the people.

I share a quote from Elon Musk, he actually said to someone who was pissing him off in the Tesla factory

“You know, I could be drinking mai tais with naked supermodels, but instead I’m here with you.” 

The quote is in this article from The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/aug/29/the-smartest-person-in-any-room-anywhere-in-defence-of-elon-musk-by-douglas-coupland

I think you may think about that a little bit. I mean relaxing.

It won’t be a failure anyway, everybody has limits, people are good at different things.

Sometimes one person’s failure could be a success for a country, and likewise!

Besides you speak English and French perfectly and I admire that a lot. 

If you lose the election this time, I hope you can relax and come to help me improve my French and English.

But I do wish you good luck, at least you are trying to win!

I hope this article won’t offend you and that’s not my intention.

I believe a maximum of 100 people may read this blog and most of them won’t agree with me at all.

Like what I wrote on my business card, trying to be funny, don’t be too serious.

PS. I worked my ass off during this pandemic to keep our restaurant business open and I spent almost 3 hours tonight on this article. 

Hope readers like it.

I am really tired.

I was not patient today

I try to be very patient and provide best services possible as long as I am serving customers myself.

This noon I failed and I regretted right away when they left.

I feel I have to write this down to remind myself that I should always improve my services to our customers. At the same time I can better myself.

Here is what happened.

At lunch time, we have three customers sitting by the window.

After one or two dishes were served one of them came to me asking not putting black beans in all plates since her friend is allergic to it and I answered all the plates ordered did not contain black beans. But I could be wrong since the black beans could be different things by their definition and this misunderstanding could be common for ingredients. After some time, she came to me asking an extra serving plate for her friend to hold some food that does not contain black beans for sure. I told her there was no black beans but she insisted saying just in case. I said “anyway, for sure” and turned away to take an extra plate for her. But she may feel I was not friendly. Three of them ordered five dishes and they have some left over for each of them. One of them asked for boxes to take home and I asked for how many. He said 5 boxes and I asked ” are you sure you need 5?” He said “if you don’t mind”. I said “for sure” but at the same time I don’t know why I shrugged and turned away to get some boxes. But that may well leave this customer feel I was trying to save some boxes. I realized that issue right away then I tried to make it up in the following conversations.

At the end, they only used three boxes. They said they liked the food but we said farewell friendly. But I felt really bad about my services and I knew I made a mistake.

I am also a people person and I should always be very patient to all requests and make customers enjoy the experience at our restaurant.

Sometimes when we are really busy or we are short handed we could not provide the level of customer services I would like but in that case I may give myself a pass.

I used to have this motto hanging on the side wall of our first restaurant at Cote-des-Neiges. It says “Never Stop Improving”, I hope I can keep up!

Any feedback is very welcomed to me directly by social media or email.

My personal Youtube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCELmUHgHGJRj_yQr7gFcAqA

Facebook—>https://www.facebook.com/CuisineAuntDai

Instagram—->https://www.instagram.com/AuntDai

Twitter——>https://www.twitter.com/FeigangFei

Simple math about restaurant business

I really panicked a few weeks ago when I found out the prices of most Chinese ingredients went up a lot due to the dramatic increase of shipping cost from China, it’s about 5 to 7 times more expensive than the usual for the shipping.

Also maybe due to the labor market during the pandemic some ingredients produced in Canada or US cost more as well. 

With the big increase of the food cost, 30% commission taken from UberEats, we may not have a feasible profit margin for our delivery orders and that’s the main reason we decided to open the restaurant for dine-in two weeks ago. The government policies make it much more difficult and costly to hire which means we simply could not make so many dishes right now. So we have to limit the low profit margin delivery orders to see how it goes and adjust accordingly.

How about the financial assistance from the government?

1), 20K dollars forgivable loan after you borrow 60K from a bank, this is real.

2), rent relief, government pays 50% of the rent, landlord pays 25% and business pays 25%, sounds amazing, right? Wait a second, to qualify for this, your sales have to drop 50% or 75%(not sure but I don’t want to Google), the real trick is that only landlord can apply for this program, most landlords don’t want to bear the loss of 25% and you don’t want to blame them. If the government really wants to help, how about the government paying 75% percent and business paying 25%? So this is a tricky one.

3), CEWS, Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, the formula is if your sales go down x% compared to before the pandemic, the government will refund you x% of your paid wages. Sounds nice. But if you are a restaurant owner you will see it’s not as good as it appears. When UberEat takes 30% as commission, the cost of food and labor goes up crazy, the net profit may have dropped more than 80% (more or less but this is difficult to calculate). So let’s assume the total sales before commission are the same, your real sales drop 30% so you can apply 30% of your total wages back. But the real loss of profit is much much more than that and I hope I am not making this too complicated. The best way to calculate business loss is to calculate the loss of real net profit but it’s not realistic for the government to know that for all businesses. So I think the government is doing OK on this.

As a small business owner I think the best way to help the economy is to open the economy safely.

Put more labor into the market so people can produce more products and services to bring down the prices to avoid the vicious down spiral circle for the economy.

After 18 months of pandemic a lot of restaurants are struggling already if not closed, now increased food costs and shortage of labor could just kill some of the remaining survivors.

We are extremely lucky to survive so far since we had a lot of media publicity thanks to Kim Belair’s tweet about my online menu comments. Now I feel the pain myself and also for my fellow peer restaurant owners.

Please remember, behind every struggling small business there are family members to feed.

I am worried that after huge inflation and the shutdown of most of the small businesses, more people would have difficulty finding a job after several months. Then the real economic crisis will come to haunt all of us.

It’s the wisdom and responsibility of our government to find a balance between public safety and the overall economy. It’s very easy for the government to shut down the economy and hand out money to people since it’s not their money but the debt to the future generations. Also all the people working for the government are paid as usual so they don’t feel the income pressure. 

To keep our restaurant open, I have been working almost 7 days a week and 14 hours a day in the past year and half. Some customers probably saw me cutting vegetables in the dining room. I don’t complain since this pandemic falls on everybody. We are just unlucky to be in the restaurant business . 

I have cut many tons of vegetables myself and for every order we’ll need to cut vegetables, cut meat and cook. More orders mean more corresponding work for the kitchen staff including myself. So if the profit margin is very low, it’s kind of a suicide, selling in volume in our restaurant won’t work otherwise I may need to cut vegetables 24/7.

 After our secret opening, we have seen a good amount of customers dine-in and that is an encouraging sign. 

With a good mix of dine-in and delivery we may bring up the profit margin to a sustainable level. If we can handle the workload for more dine-in we may announce our opening for dine-in soon and cut down our deliveries even further.

Also during this limited dine-in period, I interviewed 3 more guests on my Eat_With_The_Owner series.

Here are the YouTube videos.

If you want to join my video to tell your story please contact me.

My personal Youtube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCELmUHgHGJRj_yQr7gFcAqA

Facebook—>https://www.facebook.com/CuisineAuntDai

Instagram—->https://www.instagram.com/AuntDai

Twitter——>https://www.twitter.com/FeigangFei

Let’s keep this a secret

Today is Thursday July 22 2021, I have a secret to tell you guys but I don’t want a lot of people to know it so I choose this blog to leak the secret.

Since the pandemic started in Feb 2020 our restaurant has been open ONLY for takeouts and deliveries through delivery companies. For the summer of 2020 when the government allowed dine-in we chose not to do that. This summer starting at the beginning of June dine-in was allowed and I have to make a tough decision again.

For the downtown area, no dine-in in summer means less business but we cannot find enough staff to support a fully operating restaurant. I was hoping the takeout would support us through the summer and we will make an epic comeback after the whole pandemic is over.

So, the whole June and first half of July we did takeout and delivery only but we did see the expected sales dip since no tourists were in downtown but more restaurants are open for dine-in. Also, the current business model is much simpler regarding the operation and I would relax a little bit during the summer and I have more time to spend with my 8-year-old daughter. They all say the Montreal summer is very short and much appreciated. With less business and more time on my hands I started shooting videos of my project “Eat With The Owner”. So far I have three episodes already with guests Mical Moser, Heidi Small and Angie Ye. Each video is about 2-hour long and it’s about eating and sharing our stories. Everything is in the video from beginning to the end, real stuff. The quality of the video is kind of amateur but I don’t have time or budget to make it look pro and in my opinion it’s unnecessary to be aesthetic since the real stories and real interactions are the most important.

Here are the YouTube videos on my channel.

But things change.

Last Sunday I was told by different friends who process importation from China that the cost of shipping from China went up 4 to 5 times. And when I bought vinegar and cooking wine from C&T the price was increased a lot and they told me the price would go up even higher in the coming months because of the shipping cost. 

As a Chinese restaurant we use a lot of ingredients imported from China,  cost of shipping!!!

This made me think really hard for a long time.

I did a lot of mathematics in my head.

Every order we do with delivery companies they charge us 25% to 30%, with a huge hike in cost of ingredients it would not make sense for us to rely on the deliveries and we have to change.

To counter the cost increase some friends recommended raising prices on the menu but with fewer people downtown and more restaurants open I don’t have the confidence to raise prices. 

We have to increase the ratio of dine-in/pickup in the total sales to keep the gross profit rate at a feasible level.

We always had customers come to ask if we were open for dine-in and we had to turn them away before. Starting last Sunday afternoon, we let them in as long as they agreed to eat with the takeout containers we provided since we didn’t have our plates yet. And we called it picnik style. Sunday we had some very happy customers eating inside which was really nice.

The picnic mode lasted two days till several customers complained that we should provide them plates.

We had an internal discussion and we had to change again, so since past Wednesday July 20th we started accepting dine-in fully. Customers were happy and we had to pick up the memory of how to run the front of the house again. It was long long time ago.

But we have to keep this as a secret because we can’t have too many customers at the same time. It’s a perfect dilemma, we want a lot of customers to survive but we cannot handle all of them because it’s very difficult to find staff.

After 18 months of lockdown, a lot of small restaurants barely survived financially. 

Sales went down and the cost of ingredients went up hugely.

Super difficult to find staff, pay more to find people?

Simple mathematics?

Maybe this is the worst time to be a restaurant owner.

But I have to keep working hard since I have a family to support.

For all the leaders out there, please think about the situations for small business owners and try to recover the economy or at least don’t pour oil on the fire.

C’mon Man!

At the same time, let’s keep this as a secret. 

So for now, we adopt the policy “ask, tell”, “come, eat”.

Hope we can keep a good balance and we are good at walking on tightrope anyway, right?

Vegetable oil price at Costco

Today June 7 2021, Montreal pandemic level is lowered into orange zone from red which means restaurants can open for customers to dine in.

After 15 months of doing takeout and delivery only, I kind of forgot how to open up the restaurants for dine-in. It’s like being in the darkness for so long, first contact with light, I have to take some time to adjust my eyes, a lot of uncertainty. We choose NOT to open for dine-in now but may open later in the near future.

I would take some time to look back at the pandemic in Montreal. From the stats in Quebec, it looks like we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

With the help of vaccination progress, the hospitalization and ICU cases have been dropping for a lot of days. Hope the situation will get better and better.

For more than 15 months, people are deprived of the much needed human connections, it’s very brutal. Small businesses are forced to close or severely impacted. Behind every small business there is at least one family.

As a business owner I feel the pain on food prices. The price for 16L vegetable oil at Costco was 17.99 last year and now it’s 34.99. 

Everytime I leave Costco, I have the same amount of stuff but a much larger bill.

Combined with high commission rates from delivery companies I could tell a lot of small businesses are bleeding.

Now with permission to dine-in, a lot of restaurants may face another tough issue, very difficult to find more staff. For the pandemic, the government is paying people to stay at home and less people are willing to come out to work.

Higher cost of ingredients, higher cost of commission, higher cost of wages, difficult to hire staff, restricted dine-in, less customers, simple math, right?

How to really help restaurants? It’s not difficult to figure out, right?

In a market system, the price is pretty much decided by demand and supply, the government should understand that as well, right?

If nobody produces goods or services, nothing is available to people, right?

Our restaurant has been open for takeout and delivery all the time during this pandemic, we are doing our fair share. 

I hope the government can really dig into the basics to find out who is producing the food, how much do they grow, what is the difficulty for them, who are transporting them, they have the baseline from history stats already, how to reduce the cost to bring the food to people, how to fight this inflation. We need actions instead of pretty words.

Another month passed before I posted this blog and today is July 9th. And I can say for sure I have a time management issue which I tried to improve and failed a lot of times already. I won’t give up on this front but I won’t beat myself up on this issue since nobody is perfect at the end of the day, right? I try to be funny but actually I may NOT be funny but at least I am trying. Also I am trying to be as truthful as I can be which does NOT mean I am 100% honest.

As my new attempt I made a first long interview with Mical Moser in my series “Eat with the owner”. It’s unedited 150-minute long video, here is the YouTube video.

It may prove that I am honest and boring and I like people sharing their stories in front of a camera unedited unprepared but this may be unfocused, ending up wasting the audience’s time since time is so rare in this fast paced internet era. I am still debating if it’s a good idea to keep this way.

One thing I won’t change is that I intend to keep things as real as possible so my videos may NOT appear good/quality to some people.

Like running my restaurant business I have to be realistic and keep things to my own standards even though sometimes I have to give up some obvious opportunities.

You cannot have both ways if you want to be yourself and sometimes you have to compromise based on realities. 

Back to the restaurant business, it’s been more than 1 month since the Quebec government allowed dine-in at restaurants and we have seen our business decline a little bit, which is expected. In the last and this summer, without tourists and some restaurants open up for dine-in, we expect less business in the summer.

Some customers call us to ask if we are open for dine-in and some also come in to ask but I don’t expect a lot of customers to eat in our restaurant. First, there are a lot of restaurants open now and much less customers in the downtown area thus the competition will be crazy. Secondly, our restaurant was not VERY busy before the pandemic and I don’t expect it to be busy now even though we were reported by a lot of big name media in January 2021.

After January we saw a big increase in customers after media reports and the sales came back down to the level before or maybe slightly better. This means we did not keep a lot of new customers and at the same time it proves that I was right saying “we are NOT that good”.

Anyway, I am still trying to improve our restaurant even though it may not become THAT good.

I try to update this blog as often as possible and hope readers can subscribe to my YouTube channel and recommend more people to join my “Eat with the owner” interviews.

P.S. The vegetable oil price at Costco jumped to 37.49 that’s more than doubled than 17.99 before the pandemic, WHAT THE HELL!

Justin Trudeau, C’mon man!

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Have you eaten?

(Photo credit to documentary film maker Joshua Frank)

This is a common greeting from my hometown in China. When I was a kid in a village in the 1980s, I heard people asking “Have you eaten?” everyday. When we saw anyone passing our house my parents or grandparents would shout “have you eaten?” to them and most times we would get an answer “yes”, it’s like a shouting challenge especially when they were a little bit far. When it’s lunch time or supper time, if the answer was “no” we would invite them to eat at our house and most of them would say “thank you and I need to go home eat, my wife and kids are waiting for me, maybe the food is ready.” I did see several times some strangers especially beggars from other poorer areas were invited to eat with us. My grandpa was excited to talk to these strangers since he said he visited their hometowns when he was a guerilla fighter fighting against invading Japanese imperial army. 

In the old times, people were really worried about their food supply and they wished the most important priority for each other. It was a beautiful greeting.

This greeting is not only popular in my hometown and when I grew up and expanded my connections to people from everywhere in China I found a lot of them have the same greeting. But for sure this greeting is not as formal as “Ni Hao” and people in big cities are saying less and less.

But for my village, this greeting is still going on strong like other traditions. Especially for my mom, this greeting is her favorite.

My mom was very straight forward with very few words and she needed those words I guess. 

Before I got married, whenever I  called her, she would start with “have you eaten?”, after that she would search for words or pass the phone to my father.

After I got married, her question became “Is she pregnant?”

Every phone call started with this question. But after some phone calls we did have our first baby girl. Sometimes I did think her strong will forced a miracle baby.

After the baby was borned she changed the question to “Is she pregnant again?, you need more kids when you are old”

I explained to her that we would not have a second child many many times and finally she gave up asking.

Ever since then, her question has changed back to “have you eaten?”

I love her so much.

She taught me to be kind and patient. Perseverance is very important in my whole life and that’s what she gave me.

Best mom you could ever dreamed of having.

She is a little bit older than 70 now. She didn’t have a chance to learn how to read or write when she was young. She is a life-long christian and that helps her to pass a lot of hard times. After I could read some words I did help to read Bible stories to her, I was a good son, right?

She is a very traditional Chinese woman and my father is very smart and makes all big decisions for the family. In some way, my mom listens to my father almost 100 percent, they complement each other very well. This reminds me of a very famous Korean sitcom called “what is love” in 1990s, here is the link (https://asianwiki.com/What_is_Love). The husband asks his wife to repeat after him saying “the earth is square” to show she obeys to him.  Every time the wife said or did something the husband did not like, he would ask her to say “the earth is square”. So, at the end, WHAT is LOVE?

She worked all her life non stop. In her youth she worked too hard on the farming and bent her back and she had a huge hump on her back since then. Two years ago I took my 6-year old daughter Allison to my village for the first time. Allison asked me why grandma was so small I told her that’s the sacrifice for one generation to the other. Every time I think of that my eyes would wet a little bit. Kids see everything and tell what they see, right? I guess I over talked to my baby girl.

My mom is kind of scared of my authoritarian father. She did have some moments that I remember dearly, sweet revenges. She made fun of my father several times and she laughed into tears and my father was amused too. I guess you can poke the bear if the bear is in a good mood.

Since I have two old brothers my mom raised me like a daughter to help her on knitting and doing other things girls would help the parents.

I always think my personality is like water, in the famous Chinese classic literature “Dream of the red chamber”, here is the link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_of_the_Red_Chamber

In the book it says men are like mud, women are like water. I like that a lot! Shape of water, always adapting and changing, strength through softness.

I always miss my mom but every time I call her, she would still say “have you eaten?”. Ironically I have a Chinese restaurant of my own, that question should be self-explanatory, right?

Wife and husband small business!

(photo credit to Joshua Frank, documentary film maker)

During the pandemic I spend 7 days a week in our restaurant and I worked a lot of hours side by side with my wife. We spend way too much time together, is that a good thing, or maybe not? Before we started this restaurant seven years ago some of my friends with small business experiences warned me about the relationship between husband and wife. They told me several couples ended up divorcing because of all the pressures and different opinions on everyday small decisions.   

For our business, in the first couple of years, when you stay in the restaurant to see only few customers in a whole day and you worry about the business future you just could not escape that uneasy feelings. Once in a while we will have a lot of customers in a day and we were happy but since we didn’t have enough staff according to the usual number of customers, or it’s the nature of our restaurant, it was difficult to handle a sudden burst of orders. our kitchen or waitresses may make some mistakes and customers were unhappy. You would be super tired and a little bit upset about the mistakes. I am pretty tough and thick skinned but I felt pretty bad to have my wife going through all these torments. I felt the gut feeling myself many many times. That’s why when we had a very bad business in Anjou restaurant I never wanted my wife to work in that restaurant for a single day, as an owner, having no customers is like a torture. Going through all these is not easy on us and especially we have a lot of daily small decisions to make and it is difficult for husband and wife to maintain a good relationship.

Luckily my wife and myself have been together since our university time and we went through a lot of bumps already. We have already fought our fights long before. Both of us worked extremely hard so we won’t allow some mood swings to undo what we have done so diligently.

My habit of telling jokes and self mocking helped a lot on this front. Sometimes before a difference in decisions could become a heating point I would take the approach of “flying low near the ground”, this is like cruise missiles, they fly so low adapting to terrain to avoid radar detection. She even joked saying “you have wings”. People say giving wind, pigs can fly so can I. It’s been successful for me to have a good relationship with my wife. The family is too important for me to care about my own feelings. Also after the moments of tension we are back happy again.

I do caution couples of running a small business together. If you could avoid it please do otherwise please be as Zen as possible. I think family is the most important stuff in our life, sometimes the other pursuing is just NOT worth it.

Only thing that is bothering me is that I talk too much even sometimes I was telling funny things to cheer her up. She just had enough and literally told me to “shut up”, OK, it’s like the famous YouTube clip (I share the link below), Charlie bit me it really hurts!

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