In 2010 I was at the bottom of the sushi industry working as a basic apprentice. I didn’t speak English at first, but despite the barriers, the restaurant industry was very inclusive and provided an environment for me to quickly integrate into the United States. But the biggest challenge for me when I first started working wasn’t language; it was the long working hours and the heavy workload.
While it was difficult working as an apprentice from morning until night I was happy and later I was fortunate enough to meet excellent leaders, teams, and partners in the industry. We got together and opened our own American-Asian fusion restaurant in Brooklyn: Asea Fusion. One of the core strengths of our dishes is the high-quality ingredients, we use a lot of fresh Japanese ingredients. We have imported sea urchins, shells(There might be a better term), sashimi, fish, the finest wagyu beef, and foie gras which attracts many guests. These fresh ingredients, through the unique designs of our kitchen, have been transformed into a variety of seasonal trendy and innovative dishes.
In our fifth year of being open, we replaced our ordering system and the sales team of MenuSifu joined us to help us grow and provide innovative solutions. Gradually the POS computer-customer experience improved, making our operations easier. As a restaurant owner born in the ‘80s, I like the young team of MenuSifu and their original and reasonable management as building a team is the hardest part of starting a business.
February and March of 2020 and the outbreak of COVID-19 brought an unprecedented and bleak situation. Our total guest revenue decreased by 50% and the market was extremely unstable. Our business was hit hard with pessimistic forecasts emerging one after the other. I began to change teams, I had many doubts and concerns about finances and personal safety.
“We found strength in solidarity and were tightly united, forming great connections.”
I still remember the early days of the pandemic. The sales team at MenuSifu helped me enter a group for restaurants affected by the pandemic. Business leaders expressed their concerns in the group and we understood and encouraged one another. In those difficult times, we found strength in solidarity and were tightly united, forming great connections.
Logistics were more expensive, ingredients were in short supply and there were fewer varieties. After a few weeks, we began to work around these issues and use local sources, though the cost was still up 20-50% compared to the original. In April 2020, our supplier was completely out of stock, forcing us to close for a few weeks. Even now, the problem with raw materials has not been completely solved.
Gradually restaurants are welcoming phone calls and takeaway orders. Times have changed quietly and we are not familiar with these new “takeout” customer bases! Before the pandemic, we pursued providing high-end dishes but these are not suitable for takeout. The price of vegetables has been forced to increase and new and exotic foods cannot be cooked!
Takeout must be the next innovation for our team. By looking through the data provided by our MenuSifu POS system, we observed patterns within the orders made. We found that “takeout” customers preferred popular home-cooked dishes and while our consumer base was mainly Asian and specifically Chinese in the past, now the takeout is mainly used by non-Asian consumers. More of the orders are family-based and there are a lot fewer dine-in meals for working customers at noon.
“With this support, I feel warm-hearted and able to build my dreams.”
In order to meet the changes in the market demand, our core staff gathered together, masked up and ready to discuss. We cheered each other up and immediately updated our menu, reducing the number of high-end dishes and creating set menus. The orders for popular dishes like salmon sashimi, fried noodles, and pad thai continued to come, establishing themselves as new favorites in our restaurant. MenuSifu suggested that we adopt online ordering and digital advertising. Now the amount of takeaway orders in the past month has tripled compared to the same period last year. Our takeout business has transformed successfully!
MenuSifu helped design the website for Asea Fusion, upgrading us as a “digital restaurant.” For a long time, they sent an assistant for free to help us track and solve problems, distribute promotional materials, design holiday events, help us increase retention, etc. With this support, I feel warm-hearted and able to build my dreams.
MenuSifu has also undergone significant internal team changes during the pandemic. Any team that survives the disaster after the storm is worth celebrating. My business was also fortunate to apply for some subsidies from the government. The restaurant that is like a small “home” to us has survived and now we cherish each other even more.
In the fall of 2021, we were all worried about whether or not the pandemic would return. Although it seems as though we are safe right now, the biggest crisis at the moment is the continuously rising cost of labor and difficulty recruiting people. Now is not the time to breathe easy, we must continue to keep up with the changes in the market and take action.
My restaurant has been helped greatly by Google and Facebook ads along with improved delivery services. While we all want to pay attention to marketing, it is difficult to start due to limited access, manpower and other reasons. I trust MenuSifu’s Mealkeyway team to successfully solve these problems that my team doesn’t have the time to consider.
As a local restaurant that's been around for 10 years, many customers have been grateful for our support during the pandemic. Right now, we hope to continue to help the local community. No matter what the future holds, no matter what challenges keep coming our way, our team has gone through a lot allowing us to cooperate effectively over these 10 years. We are practically family. We are going to work hard and continue to carry on!