Eighteen months on and I’m still going and going strong. Whew! it has been a tremendous feat but with every passing day I know I’m moving towards something wonderful. It all started when I felt that there was a need to shake up the stereotypical perception these days that chinese food is synonymous to fast food noodles in a box.
The bank refused to lend as we were considered to be a high risk sector. In the early stages, we faced doubts as to whether it was going to be a viable business. The trip adviser critiques were difficult to digest at times. No one would believe it possible to set up a new Chinese restaurant in one of the worst recessions in history – one that doesn’t use MSG. Feedback such as “No one will eat your food.” “It will never work if it isn’t in Chinatown,” or “It needs to have the traditional red, gold and dragons.” “You need to start a delivery service. How can you start a chinese restaurant and not offer delivery service?”
I had a vision for my own design for Naturally Chinese. I wanted cooler, zen colours with accents of dainty flowers that would bring light and purity to the room. My taste lies in the minimal where I hope to bring through the food, a healing to the mind and body in a communal and artful experience with hot and fresh flavours, aromatic delights that appeal to the senses. I have one customer who says to me that she always thinks of Naturally Chinese when she wants a little medicine for clarity. It’s moments like these that tell me there is a gap to be filled.
I have had to work steadily at keeping the inspiration alive everyday whether it be making sure the flowers were cut neatly for each table or rechecking the freshness of the vegetables, right up to surrounding myself with inspiring people like my friend Nick Williams, author of The Work We Were Born To Do, and inspirational speaker Kiki Maurey who I met at a workshop called Breaking Barriers, as well as good friends who supported my endeavour and reinforced that anything is possible if I work at being inspired.
I recently had the privilege to be selected by the British Library who awarded me the innovating for growth programme. They’ve been a powerful resource to help me take Naturally Chinese to the next level, thinking beyond the scope of local, by that I mean franchising – something that seems the natural thing to do for Naturally Chinese. The challenge is being able to keep the integrity and quality to the highest possible standards at all times. This is the foremost vital component I stand by.
I recall the first days of cleaning chimneys and hunting for restaurant furniture deals. I have come a long way from the growing pains of finding a capable team, inspiring them to serve our customers with care and joy, and fighting hard to stay open in down turns. My dream would be to see Naturally Chinese benefit the community, even if in a small way – bringing happiness and light through food that is medicine to the mind and body and in turn the being as a whole. It’s about keeping balance and knowing that we can eat healthy and have an aesthetically appealing dining experience on a regular basis.
There’s a saying that I’m reminded of that goes ….. “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.” Setting up and running a business is a bit like climbing a mountain. Apart from the obvious obstacles, there also exists the skeptics who can be critical of you undertaking the precarious task. But therein lies a chance to prove to yourself and others that passion will bring you inspiration, which will let you travel life’s journey with the purpose you were meant to fulfill.