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?
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.
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?
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!
(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.
(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!
(Photo credit to Edouard Plante-Frechette From La Presse)
Now, it’s midnight of Feb 2nd 2021, in three days Cuisine AuntDai will be SEVEN years old. What a journey, the good, the bad and the ugly. Very itchy!
On Feb 5th 2014 we had our first baby steps from zero. I did not know anything about business and restaurant. I did buy a book called “Canaidan Small Business Kit for dummies” and I read it from the first page to the last one.
The original plan was that my wife would work in the restaurant full time for free. Since I had a full time IT job so if the restaurant would break even in the first couple of years, we would be OK financially. Then with the experience of running a restaurant I was thinking we would have a good chance to survive.
We paid 60K dollars for the existing restaurant and it was ready to operate. I took a home-line-credit loan of 75K from the bank. Hope the extra 15K would be enough before the restaurant could break even.
During the day I went to the office working as an IT engineer and After 5PM I would take the metro directly to the restaurant to serve a waiter or help in the kitchen.
The first few days were exciting and full of daylight dreams. But the following weeks I realized that it was very difficult to attract customers. I was trying a lot of tricks to get more customers to increase our sales especially among Chinese customers. Since it’s not easy to find free parking near the restaurant at Cote-des-Neiges. Sometimes I had to ask the customers to sit in first and I would go out parking for them. After some time, I was very familiar with the CRAZY Montreal parking signs. To make things easier, I made a detailed diagram to show how many free parking spaces on different sections of each street during different time periods. I posted that free parking guide online, I was an engineer and making information transparent and easy to access is my specialty.
With all these efforts, the first two months we didn’t have enough customers and I had to borrow another 15K dollars from the bank and the total loan was 90K, that was a very high number for my family to absorb especially when the future of the restaurant was really bleak.
It was a cruciating time, one day, we had only 6 customers in total, I remember that day forever, I was expecting the last straw to fall on my back any moment from that day.
For the first month, almost every night I worked till 1 o’clock. One weekend I was working overnight for my IT job, it was network maintenance during Saturday night. I didn’t sleep that night at all. Sunday morning I went directly from the office to the restaurant and worked all day. After I closed for the day, I was driving back home. I was so exhausted and I remember that I drove out from the back alley and local roads and then onto highway 15, after that I could not remember anything till I drove my car into a concrete lamp post. The airbag popped out and I had cuts on my lips and the lamp post fell. I was OK miraculously. After highway 15 I was on highway 40 and had to turn left onto a overhead bridge and it was a snowy night, if it’s more than 30 KM/H for that left turn I would fly off that bridge, I guess there must be a god guiding me off the highway 40 and that crucial left turn. Only after another left turn, one block from my house my car finally lost control, the car was a total loss. My loss of memory before the crash could be the result of the impact. That time, my Chevy Cobalt was on a one way insurance and the insurance company paid the lamp post damage (about 5000 dollars) to the city, they did not pay for my car but I was lucky that I was still alive. After that close call I was always very careful about fatigue driving, you can never play with your luck twice.
That luck during the accident did not bring me luck on restaurant business. The tormenting days kept on. In July 2014, five months after we opened our business, we were reported by Montreal Gazette, here is the article link
That article brought us some more customers and I finally saw a glimpse of hope. After that we either broke even or only lost a little bit of money and I saw some fleeting light at the end of the tunnel.
I spent more time talking to customers and also shot a lot of introduction videos for some dishes. Some customers came to help us shooting videos for free, Gwayne, Alexandre, Sergio and our beloved waitress Sophie. It was a great time and a lot of fun. You can find those videos on the YouTube channel
Looking back at those early videos I am moved by our early stories.
Then a breakthrough came in March 2015, about 14 months from the beginning of this journey. CTV News Montreal audience voted AuntDai as the number 1 best Chinese restaurant in Montreal and they came to interview us. After the interview was aired on TV. You can find the video on CTV website here.
Right after that moment we had so many customers and I never saw that many customers for the first several days. I was too excited and I made a big mistake, being greedy.
We seated all the customers but we could not handle the workload. A lot of customers were waiting for more than one hour and the food quality became less. Even when I hired new people, they were not trained and the kitchen was a total mess. I made a lot of customers mad. I acted like someone never seeing this much money to grab, looking back I see I was so naive and silly. But, hey, I will not be hard on myself, I am allowed to make mistakes even it was a big one.
After the several days of craziness the business came down alot from the peak because we handled it very poorly but it stayed at a comfortable level. From that moment that small restaurant of 40 seats was profitable.
From March 2015 and March 2017, it was a good time, working hard but happy.
For that period of time, I had a full time IT job and a profitable small restaurant.
Some customers liked us and the way we were doing restaurant business.
But keeping improving is my nature.
At the end of March 2017, I took a week off from my IT job and closed the restaurant for that week to do a makeover. I worked with several teams day and night to renovate the dining room, kitchen and basement storage room. I worked 20 hours a day and I put all my strength to pull that off.
After that renovation, I felt very good about the business and another HUGE mistake was about to be made.
I thought my business model was good and people loved the brand “AuntDai”.
I opened a new restaurant in Anjou (East of Montreal island).
I spent about 2 weeks renovating the new restaurant and rushed to open it on June 1st 2017 since it’s children’s day and my lucky day too. I was superstitious.
Because of all the reasons that I know now, that Anjou restaurant was a total failure and I explained that in my Chinese blogs. It was bleeding money all the time but I was using the profit of the Cote-des-Neiges restaurant to offset the loss hoping one day the Anjou one would turn around.
Then a fire destroyed our profitable Cote-des-Neiges restaurant on Oct 1st 2017. On that early Sunday morning I just finished the first half of the soccer game, I received a call from the landlord about the fire. It was a total loss, to make it worse, our insurance was a minimum one. I got almost nothing from the insurance company, first business ever for me, lack of experience costs me dearly.
That was a sad period of time.
Then we decided to open a new one downtown, our current location. I settled at a price with a restaurant owner to take over the space and I had to borrow money from the bank, starting over. Again I rushed to renovate for about two weeks and we opened our business on Dec 30th 2017 just to make sure we will have a new restaurant before the end of 2017, I had to have a good note for 2017.
So, the year 2017 is the most memorable year for me, I renovated three restaurants, lost a profitable one, opened a wrong one in Anjou, and started a new one downtown.
What a year for me!
I felt I used all my strength and youth, suddenly tireless myself started feeling the heaviness on my body, I am not that young anymore. I took advantage of my body too much.
With our existing customer base or accumulated name recognition, the downtown restaurant started well. The profit was used to fill the deficit of the Anjou restaurant and I spent some money to improve the downtown restaurant little by little. Over the course of a year and half I totally replaced all the furniture on the first and second floors. Our interior designer TongChun Chen helped on the design, Birch hall on the second floor, one office room, one lounge area, overall style. The downtown restaurant was beautiful.
At the same time, the Anjou restaurant was still bleeding money. After long consideration I decided to put it for sale in March 2019. The sale dragged on for six months, one mistake after another, in September 2019 I even renovated the Anjou restaurant and renamed it to “Lotus D’Anjou” to restart, like rebooting a computer, again I was so naive and too insistent. Sometimes never giving up is a curse on me.
The restart as “Lotus D’Anjou” was going OK with Chinese customers in the region. Then the Covid happened and news came to Canada at the end of January 2020. I saw the sharp drop on the burgeoning sales and I pulled the plug right ways. closed the Anjou restaurant for good. I tried to give away the restaurant to stop the bleeding. When the pandemic was declared on March 11th 2020. My hope to find a new owner to take over the Anjou restaurant is diminishing everyday.
To make things worse, at the end of April I was laid off from my full time IT job.
Why do you test my mental strength this much?
Then my lucky moment finally came in July 2020 when two partners agreed to take over the restaurant on the condition of me paying them extra money to cover the first few months rent. It was a fair deal for me to get rid of the unknown infinite financial burden.
That heavy weight off my back was the happiest moment during this damn pandemic!
After that I was focusing solely on the downtown restaurant and I believed if I worked hard enough I should be able to go through this uncertain time.
Then fate just showed me another twist, this time, it’s for my favor.
On Jan 10 2021, a tweet from Kim Belair @BagelofDeath changed everything for me. I was interviewed by a lot of big name media and my twitter account @FeigangFei got a lot of followers and a lot of people started reading my blogs. We have a lot more sales than before and everything looks great for me.
Please keep reading the previous blogs to know the history of our restaurant and my personal journey.
Now it’s about 2 o’clock in the morning and you can see I am very excited. I work extremely hard to keep the business alive. It also took a lot of luck.
Seven years for Cuisine AuntDai, it’s quite a journey, no matter what happens in the future, I already appreciate these experiences.
I am never afraid of failure and I will happily accept the result of being a loser after putting up all my strength for a good fight.
(Photo credit to Pierre Obendrauf, photograhper from Montreal Gazette)
Now it’s Thursday noon Jan 28th. I don’t feel like cutting vegetables and want to take a break, maybe a great time to write a blog.
As an immigrant I have been encouraged by a lot of people saying my English is good, I am still trying to improve my English everyday.
In my university time (1997 to 2001), we had to pass grade-4 to get a bachelor degree and if you could pass grade-6, it surely would help you find a good job. I remember I passed the grade-4 test with a score of 67.5. I was trying to memorize a lot of words by reading a vocabulary book called “Liu Yi 5000 words”. Then I met my wife (she was my first and only girlfriend), insteading memorizing new words, we went out dating a lot. Meeting my wife is the luckiest thing ever happened to me which cured my inferiority feelings. That story will be saved for another blog article later. That time I was thinking, I don’t need to pass the grade-6 test, they say the 21-st century will be the century of China, I guess a lot of foreigners will be able to speak Chinese and I don’t need to good at English, like American don’t need to learn Chinese or French or Spanish, after 20 years, English is still the most common language between different countries, damn, I was wrong then.
In 2002, I was sent to Egypt on a business trip by my first employer. When I was talking to our Egyptian customers I felt my English was OK. I guess English was the second language for both sides and we slowed down and used signs to make it easier. After the Egyptian trip I felt pretty confident about my English.
Then I had a business trip to London, UK. I was taking over a project from a colleague so I inherited the contact cell phone for the project. Maybe on the second day, I received a phone call and the person on the other end said something too quickly for me, I said “pardon”, he repeated and I still could not understand his words and I said “pardon” again, he explained again, I had to say “pardon” again, he just hanged up. At the end, I still could not figure out who called and what the phone call was about. I even didn’t know whether the call was for my project. My senior colleague even sneered at me after seeing that. He said “your English is so poor how can you do this project here?” I felt so humiliated and I swore I had to improve my English. After that I went to a local shop and bought a portable radio and everywhere I went I was listening to BBC radio.
After the UK trip I went back to Shenzhen, China and I tried reading a lot of English books whenever I got some time.
After my English was improved I did a better job in my following overseas business trips. Also it helped me to see the world differently, a new world was right in front of me and I was so curious about this new world and I spent a lot of time reading CNN articles and Wikipedia pages to learn what’s happening in the world.
When I immigrated to Canada through the “skilled worker” program I was OK with English. Being in North America gave me a lot more chances to improve my English. I watched a lot American shows on Netflix and also I watched a lot of NBA live games by subscribing to “NBA league pass”. I just love Jeff Van Gundy much more as an ESPN commentator than as a NBA coach. He is excellent as a commentator, that beautiful voice and professional knowledge about basketball. After Michael Jordan, Kobe is my most respected and admired player with his fighting spirit, so inspiring. Sadly, his accident is a huge loss for NBA fans in the worst year 2020. I can comment on a lot of NBA players and I like Stephen Curry a lot too, not so much on some other big names.
On my commuter train trips between home and downtown office I always read a book. I must say kudos to libraries in Montreal and all of them are so so so great. I have read all three Twilight books, any popular book will help me especially those with modern story setup. I can learn a lot of English that can be used in daily life. With due respect to those authors I think everyday soap books are perfect for English learning, the more popular the better. I even don’t feel bad to admit I read the book “fifty shades of grey”. To practice listening and speaking I watched all episodes of “the desperate housewives”, the dialogues are very clear and full of real life scenes and it’s best for English learning. Even though “friends” are number one shows for me I watched it many times but the dialogue is too fast and contains too many slangs and expressions, not easy for English learners.
As I said before my goal is to improve my English to the point that I can write a book about my personal story, I went through a lot of life-changing events and they were worth recording even for a nobody person like me. Life is like a book and when your time is up your book is closed. I need to open a book before my book is closed.
Recently I had a lot of media interviews and a lot of people are reading my blogs. This encourages me to write more blogs I hope readers can share my blogs to more people.
Will you still love me tomorrow? Solute The Shirelles.
Learning English is a lifelong journey which is a blessing for me.
Doesn’t matter how slow it is, I always try to better myself till the very end.
(Photo credit to Pierre Obendrauf, photograhper from Montreal Gazette)
This is written on the night of Jan 24th 2021, two weeks after the magical Kim Belair tweet. Suddenly I gained a lot of followers on Twitter and Instagram. Yesterday I released my first personal story video and I am planning to shoot more short videos to tell my stories, some of them may be sad, happy, inspiring or dull. Even though I am a very trivial person, I treasure my life story in case it could resonate or inform others. Hope people won’t get bored.
Right now, I feel a lot of confidence about the future of Cuisine AuntDai but here I want to share with you the darkness before the dawn, the scariest moment in the business sense.
If you read my blogs before you would know that in June 2017 I opened a second Cuisine AuntDai in the eastern city called Anjou. Because of all the bad business decisions and realities, the Anjou restaurant was losing money from day one. Before the end of year 2019, the profit from the downtown restaurant could make up the loss of the Anjou restaurant so I was hoping the sales in Anjou would eventually go up. Then the COVID-19 hit and I had to close down the Anjou one at the beginning of Feb 2020 to save the cost on staff and I was waiting for someone to take it over. When the pandemic was declared on March 11th, my hope of giving out the Anjou was diminishing everyday. The worst moment came when I was laid off from my full time IT job at the end of April. On that day, everything came to my head, no stable income, Anjou restaurant closed, paying rent and not sure when it would be relieved, also the downtown restaurant was not making money at all, so our savings would keep decreasing. This thought kept me sweating for several nights. But the next morning, with blood shots in my eyes, I had to soldier on and put a smile on my face. I could see my wife was really worried so I had to do a lot of analysis of scenarios for her and draw a possible pretty picture about the future. At the same time, I had to keep my head down and work tireless for many hours a day to save the labor cost. Somehow, over time, we kind of forgot about the possible family bankruptcy. With the pandemic going on, we even could not go to a bar to drink like we used to in 2017 after a fire destroyed our profitable first restaurant at Cote-des-Neiges.
In July 2020, we finally found two people who would take over the Anjou restaurant after we agreed to pay several months of rent for them. Even though we paid the landlord a big lump sum, at least we got rid of the huge burden. In the pandemic that was very lucky for us. Now we could focus on the downtown restaurant only.
My wife and I were really hopeful after removing the Anjou restaurant and we felt more energized to work for our future on the downtown restaurant. The work was hard but we were happy because we knew we would not lose money (or that much money) when both of us work hard.
With the spirit of feeling lucky and appreciating we were surviving during the pandemic we started providing 5 free meals for a small single moms group everyday since Sept 6 2020 and we plan to keep it going forever.
So the end of April, May, June are definitely the scariest moments of our business.
On a December day, I was in court to challenge a ticket for forgetting vehicle registration for my business car. The reminder letter was sent to my old address which was proven to be the administration’s error not mine. I tried to play the sympathy card by telling the judge that “I lost my job in April and restaurant business is hit hard by COVID and I had to work long hours to save the cost and the ticket of 385 dollars plus 115 dollars contribution fee is too much for me”, as I was saying that argument I could feel my eyes were welling up, I told myself stop being a pitiful soft person, man up. The judge said she understood the hardship on our business but the responsibility of the registration renewal is fully on me since administration does NOT have to mail me the reminder letter, she will judge me guilty but exempt me from paying the 115 dollars contribution fee. I told the judge “I respect your ruling 100%, I totally support the rule of law even though I think the fine is too heavy, thank you”. The judge was really nice and I felt better.
With all these scary times behind us, my wife was asking why I was so calm in May or June. I was scared too but I have a mechanism to deal with pressure and uncertainty. I am always optimistic and I only allow myself panic or worry for a very short time. It’s all trained many times when I was very young. I was born into a very poor family in a rural area in China. From grade one to grade 8 (for 1980’s, I had 5 years in primary school in a village and 3 years of junior high school in a small town), on the first day of school, the teacher in charge would ask “those who has not paid the tuition fees need to stand up”, every year I stood up with different group of poor kids and we were sent home directly and could only return with tuition fees usually borrowed from a relative by myself and my father wouldn’t do that I guess he would lose face to borrow money by himself. My self-esteem was totally destroyed by those teachers over and over. I had to look up to everybody and walk lightly and I became so sensitive and observative. To make myself look not so miserable I always tried to be funny and mocked myself by telling jokes. I guess I would not dare to mock others but only myself unless I wanted to be beaten up. I definitely can trace my personality to those days when I went through all those humiliations. I never knew what was personal PRIDE until I read the book “the stories of the Sahara” from Echo Chen, in the book, when a young girl who stole Echo’s sandals was caught and confronted, the poor girl yelled “you hurt my pride”, from that moment, I knew my PRIDE was lost, I needed to find it back. Everybody has pride doesn’t matter what kind of situation they are in. I was lucky to enter a good university and found a great first job. My PRIDE or self confidence was slowly restored. And since I lost my precious PRIDE when I was very young, I always remind myself to respect the PRIDE of anybody I meet especially those who are in disadvantageous situations like young myself.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, that’s my strength.
I have been there and this won’t bother me anymore.
(Photo credit to TongChun Chen, designer of Birch hall at Cuisine AuntDai)
After the media coverages I became much busier, a lot more vegetables to cut in the restaurant and more dreams to be dreamed during the day. I only have time to write blogs during the late night.
After that viral tweet, I was given a platform to promote AuntDai’s business. My name and photo are public now. My story is on many major news websites in many major languages including in Chinese I am wondering who will be the first person I know in China to contact me telling me they saw my story on the news. I really appreciate this opportunity and I need to think about what is my next step.
As I said in some interviews I had a full-time IT job until April 2020 and I was a network engineer. Covid-19 did affect me in a big way, after I was laid off I was really worried about the family income. The restaurant business is hit really hard. Without my IT job income, the financial situation could become worrisome. I did not tell my colleagues before about a side job I was helping my wife running a restaurant, I guess you can understand why.
I had this very cool smart colleague called Ron. He is my favorite person in the office. After all the media reporting, I wanted to hear his opinion. I called him this morning, after answering, his first words were “You are a celebrity now, Fei, congratulations”, I asked how did you find out? He said “Your photo popped up on my phone, you still wear that T-shirt?”. He saw newspaper reports and told me “that’s totally you, that’s your style, sometimes you are too honest”. Ron and I have been in the same IT team for almost 12 years, I learned a lot from him. He told me many times that the way I talked was too direct and needed to “filter” words. I knew that’s my shortcoming and it may rub people the wrong way, I tried to be more political but sometimes I still failed. Only a few months before I was laid off, Ron and I were on a conference call with a technician from a provider company to us, the technician made an obvious mistake and just told us an excuse. I followed up on his excuses and he got really upset. After the call Ron told me “The technician made a mistake, you don’t push him to the corner, you don’t need to argue even if you are right.” We all need to give others some space especially when they make simple mistakes everybody deserves self-esteem. So I really learned a lot from him and I wanted to hear from him about this media attention.
He sure gave me some really good advice and one of them is that I need to buy new T-shirts since I am a “celebrity” now, you cannot show up in every photo and video wearing the same T-shirt. One thing I do regret though, I should have taken a flight to South Korea before this pandemic, they are very good at plastic surgeries, I would look much cooler on TV.
After saluting the potato let’s solute RON.
After the call with Ron I contacted Brenda. She is an independent journalist living in Montreal from Shanghai. She was a big time host in Shanghai before immigrating here according to my previous conversation with her. She produces her own interview videos here in Montreal to continue her career she left behind Shanghai. She knows how to shoot and edit videos and she knows how to tell a story through video. She must know this thing much better than me. I always wanted to shoot videos to explain our restaurant and our menu better in videos. Before I did not want to show my face because I was worried about my job security. Now I have no job and I am not shy either. I always like sharing my story and experience now let’s bring it to video. It will be a perfect time for me to work with Brenda to make some videos about myself and my restaurant.
We will have more videos to come out soon.
Before I go to bed, I want to list the latest interviews to brag about later.
On Thursday, I was interviewed by Yelp business and they will post a long article. I was interviewed through Skype by a producer from Kelly Clarkson Show and the video will be played on the show.
On Friday I joined Bridgett Leslie Instagram live show from Australia, first time ever for me to do that on Instagram, learned some new Instagram techniques from her.
I guess next week, the media attention will fade out for sure, it has been two weeks, amazing, sweet dreams baby!
(Photo credit to TongChun Chen, designer of Birch hall at Cuisine AuntDai)
Now it’s the late night of Jan 20th one famous day, I feel like I need to provide updates to my followers because I gained a lot of followers on Twitter and Instagram after this viral tweet on Jan 10th by Kim Belair. I thought the unexpected fame would last only a couple of days and then business would be back to usual. Especially I though last Friday would be a stop day, after the weekend people would forget about AuntDai and the weird owner called Feigang Fei.
But when Monday started, I continued to receive interview requests, insider.com phone interview, live on radio Beat 92.5FM, CJAD Aaron Rand show, also phone interview with The Times London, it looks the media coverage carried over the weekend, OMG, The Times reported my story, this is definitely the highlight of my life, I feel like I have set foot on the top of the Everest, whatever happens after, it won’t matter much to me anymore, I am happy even though I don’t think I deserve all these media coverage and support from a lot of people around the world. I am only a regular guy trying to be true to myself, trying to make a living for my family, learning English and French, playing soccer for fun, trying to be funny, trying to better myself. I did not do anything extraordinary. I feel I could wake up at any moment but I rather hope to sleep a little bit longer to keep the dream alive. I am 42 years old and way past the age of being shy, I would accept all the interview requests and show them the real me even though I could be weird.
On Tuesday, Gazette Montreal sent a professional photographer to our restaurant and took some photos of me. Bill Brownstein interviewed me and produced an article on their website, later to be printed on newspaper. That is a beautifully written report. I could tell he was very interested in my personal story trying to know me more and find the root cause of my honesty. I always like to share my life story as long as it’s not too embarrassing. To tell you the truth, when I am asked about something I feel ashamed of I will choose to avoid answering instead of lying. I try not to lie unless I absolutely have to. Anyway, He did not ask me any of those questions. He is a great reporter.
I was contacted by an Australian working for Travel Writers Radio after she saw a news report about us on ABC Australia. I learned a lot of Instagram skills from her over FaceTime. I agreed to attend her Instagram live interactive event this Friday, this will be my first time to interact with some live audience, it will be fun.
CJAD host Aaron Rand called today and ordered a takeout. He is so cool and you feel his authority and respect right away. He agreed to take a picture with me. I guess it’s my first time to be in the same frame with a celebrity.
On Wednesday, I joined CTV Ottawa morning program through FaceTime. In the afternoon CTV NATIONAL had an interview inside our restaurant and we talked a lot on camera and the producer told me they would edit it into a 2-minute clip to be aired on CTV either Thursday for Friday. Twice a day with CTV, it’s amazing. Also I was contacted by CTV Toronto to appear on their morning program next Friday, I just love CTV.
So what is the impact on us so far?
1), I see a big increase of orders and I have to cut a lot more vegetables myself. Today the CTV National filmed me cutting green peppers.
2), the restaurant blog saw huge spikes of viewership.
3), sometimes I was too excited about the media coverage, I have had two sleepless nights, I need to calm myself down.
4), a lot of people told me they heard me on the radio, saw me on TV and read articles about me on the internet. Man, this is crazy.
5), I Googled my own name, OMG.
6), since I have quite some followers on Twitter and Instagram, should I post something everyday? What do you suggest?
7), I always have very few clothes. I am on different TV programs and newspapers, I don’t want to show the same T-shirts (only two T-shirt I really like, both are free samples of Parasuco when my wife was working there before AuntDai) all the time, I feel I need to buy some new clothes but we are in the middle of lockdown, cannot buy non-essential goods, what kind of timing?
I almost forgot I still have this blog space. From my last blog about my restaurant journey, it’s almost three years, if you don’t count this pandemic year, it’s about two years. Why am I digging up this aged blog and continuing writing? Who knows you encounter what kind of turns on your life journey and who knows you will meet someone important?
On January 10 2021, Sunday evening one tiny tweet was destined to change the trajectory of my life at least for now. That sweet tweet was created by Kim Belair @BagelofDeath who is one of our customers I am not sure if I have ever spoken with her in the restaurant before the pandemic. Since I have seen so many customer faces in the restaurant I kind of forever lose the ability to recognize someone from their looks.
On January 11, Monday afternoon, I received an email from a journalist from German newspaper called “Süddeutsche Zeitung” translated as “South German” saying a tweet about our restaurant went viral. I thought it was a spam and replied to ask for screenshots. She replied with the Twitter link. OMG, it was real I could not believe that tweet got almost 60K likes and 10K retweets even I am not a Twitter fan I knew it was not an easy number to get.
For sure I agreed to this German interview, it was scheduled Wednesday at 3PM here 9PM Germany time over Skype video. On the same day I received interview requests from CBC radio Montreal “Daybreak” and digital media montreal.eater.com. The CBC radio live interview happened on Wednesday morning at 8:10, English is my second language, I was nervous. I could not figure out how to pronounce the word “complexity”, I failed twice and the host bailed me out. After that 10-min interview I went directly to my restaurant to prepare for the day. I thought I did not do well on the interview since it’s my first interview ever. In the afternoon, I received a call from CBC for an interview, this time it’s CBC national brand program “As It Happens”, I was talking to the famous host Carol Off on Thursday, can a dream become more real? After moving to Canada about 14 years ago, I spent a lot of time listening to radio to improve my English. At the beginning I listened to CJAD AM800, the quality was great but there were some commercials then I found CBC, no commercial at all. For the purpose of learning English, no commercial is a great plus. Later I found out CBC was 100% funded by Canadian government so they don’t need revenue from ads. I feel it’s unfair to give up on CJAD because of this factor. Especially later CJAD contacted me to join their “Aaron Rand Show” live at 5:50PM coming Monday Jan 18th. I did much better on the interview on CBC national and CBC would write an article on their website with the interview clip. They asked my photo for that article and I asked the possibility of not giving my picture since I always keep a low profile, taking a selfi is never my thing. CBC was nice enough to say I didn’t have to provide it.
Ironically, on the next day, Friday, Global News TV called me in the morning to request a TV interview. If I agree they would send a cameraman at 1PM to record the interview and it would be aired at 5PM. I was hesitant to show my face to the public so far there was not my picture on the internet. But I did not want to miss this great opportunity of publicity so I said yes. After Global News aired the interview on TV we immediately saw a huge increase of orders and a lot of my friends sent me the article with the video clip. Some mobile phones even popup my photo through Global News APP, that is insane!
Before the weekend, I was interviewed by The Guardian, Today.com, Food Network, MTLblog.com, Dailyhive.com, it was everywhere. I could not believe what just happened to me.
Friday and Saturday we saw a lot of new customers and a lot of them told me they heard me on the radio or saw me on TV and they loved it.
When all this magic happens I can only think of one person that I have to say huge thanks it’s Kim Belair. On Saturday night I recovered my dormant Twitter account @feigangfei which was registered in 2011 when I was thinking about learning English by joining social media but there was zero activity during the past 10 years. Now I started with 0 follower and 0 following, the first person I followed is Kim and it’s NOT difficult to find her Twitter account, is it?
I replied that HOLY tweet stating that I am the owner of Cuisine AuntDai and my name Feigang Fei, right now all those big name media articles have Feigang Fei, Kim Belair and AuntDai all together. Kim saw my tweet reply and she followed me and I DMed my cell phone number to her. I posted my first tweet with the screenshot of my Twitter account showing “1 follower 1 following”, in my heart, that’s the relationship between Feigang Fei and Kim Belair.
Kim called on Sunday morning, we had a great conversation for about 30 minutes. I thanked her a lot for making me kind of famous internationally after seeing media reports in so many languages. I told her that history has already forged the bond for two of us and it’s on the internet, they say once it’s on the Internet it never disappears, right? I told her if she plans for any interviews or live events and if she needs me, I will always be there no matter what.
Right now, it’s Sunday night, what a heck of week I just lived, I promised I would update this blog very soon and I keep my promise.
Since my name and picture are on the Internet now, I have to come out, JUMP!