When you meet members of the Asian Restaurant Owners Network you immediately recognise they are different, they are young, they know what they want, and they are very busy going about getting it.
This impression is personified when you meet Rehan Uddin, Managing Director of the Asian Restaurant Owners Network. He has much to say and as such we thought it would be an ideal opportunity to sit down with him and try to understand how the Asian Restaurant Owners Network came together, why, and where it is going.
H&C News: How did it start, where did the idea, need, want, come from, where are you now and where are you going?
Rehan Uddin: As a young restaurateur the first lesson I had to learn the hard way was that finding staff to work in restaurants was far more difficult than I envisaged. I love food especially Asian food and as such I naively thought others who love food would rush to work where we could celebrate food together. As every restauranteur knows, it’s not that easy.
So, I spoke with other local restaurateurs hoping the answer to my problem would be simple, a matter of experience, it wasn’t. Or to put it another way, when I asked the question all I got was knowing looks, some empathy, and lots of shared frustrations.
Maybe I just needed to widen my search for knowledge and to try and do exactly that I sought out associations that represented Asian restaurateurs nationwide. More knowing looks, more empathy and more frustrations, but no solution.
One of the many advantages of being brought up in an Asian family is that you learn to be entrepreneurial, you make things happen. Using my initiative, I decided to look at the problem from a different perspective, my perspective. I knew what I wanted my restaurant to be and that required moving away from many aspects of traditional Asian restaurants and creating a restaurant that reflected a 21st century Asian dining experience. I was proud of my heritage but realised that diners want a great restaurant and food experience, they aren’t interested in anything else and why should they be.
I trawled the internet and spent most of my time on social media looking at the restaurants, restaurateurs and chefs that were commanding attention. I found many as social media allows people to make their own statements. One person I particularly liked and found inspiration from was Gary ‘Fucking’ Usher. This guy said it how it was, I searched and found more that said it like it was, reflecting real life experiences.
Another inspiration was from another Gary, Gary Vaynerchuk. A Belarusian American entrepreneur who transformed his family’s ‘traditional’ wine business from just another New York wine retailer into a $60 million turnover online sensation. As the son of an immigrant steeped in family traditions that had successfully transformed his family’s business into the 21st century, he was my kind of guy.
By far my biggest inspiration is Anwar Miah, Anwar LOVES Asian food FULL STOP we share that in our life mission in creating great Asian food experiences every day.
I want to make money and I want to do that through running a successful restaurant business diners love to experience. If you are truly good at what you do and you can make a good living through doing what you love you are lucky, I am lucky and grateful of that. I knew other like minded young Asian restaurateurs, so we got together and started the Asian Restaurant Owners Network.
Our first mistake was to seek help in developing young talent from Government funded education, colleges. Some of the people we met were interested and willing but were disillusioned themselves from Government cutbacks. The idea to have highly experienced chefs teaching students to enter the world of restaurants was met with some enthusiasm, but as soon as we were at the point of starting something, Government funding was cut cancelling existing courses never mind starting a new one.
We voiced our disappointment after putting so much effort and energy in and getting no return on our Facebook page, this was and still is our home ground for communications. Asian restaurateurs from around the country who shared our concerns and frustrations joined our Facebook group, we were developing our numbers.
I decided that if I wanted to make a change, I would have to do it myself alongside other like minded restaurateurs and set out to.
The young people I wanted to employ needed to be inspired and the only way to do that was to walk the walk, if I wanted a 21st century Asian restaurant young people would be proud to work with I would have to create it. No half measures, all in.
The first thing was to break the perceptions of Asian restaurants with diners, it had to look different, have a different menu, have a different service culture and a different way of communicating with our target audience.
By being different, looking different, communicating differently and feeling different to diners we were also a different proposition to young people, one that they became more interested working in.
The quantum leap then had to be in how we nurtured and developed young people, again we looked for inspiration from those in the industry getting attention and doing well, searching Google and engaging with others on social media.
As we sought information and engaged with others, our social media following grew. There were a number of key messages that resonated with us and all were centred around nurturing and challenging young people to learn.
We wanted to develop young talent and we are doing exactly that, for example our operations manager Tia Dewar is twenty three, she started at the bottom and has worked her way up. Tia is currently doing an apprenticeship in hospitality developing her knowledge of the wider industry as well as operations at my restaurant.
Everyone at my restaurant has targets and goals and we work alongside everyone helping them to do the best they can. Our KP for example is hungry to develop his skills and experience and we are equally hungry to provide him with the opportunities and learning to do just that. Our front of house leader started here as a KP, developed his skills in the kitchen and then wanted to master front of house, he is currently. We work with our team to ensure they get every opportunity to be the best they can be, and from that commitment to them we retain them and their loyalty in our business.
Not everyone can rise to the challenge and we can’t always support everyone in every way to ensure they do, but we do everything we can, and we have provided some people who left with a second chance. If they have the humility to ask for a second chance, we have the humility and gratitude to reward that.
We pay people well, everyone is paid above the national minimum wage, and we encourage people to work for tips through providing outstanding customer experiences.
What we learn we pass on through the Asian Restaurant Owners Network, mostly through Facebook, and other members do the same. We learn collectively and we apply that knowledge to running better businesses. Sharing that knowledge as a collective we compound and accelerate our learning process.
What started a few years ago from need has become a fast growing network of almost 1,500 like minded business people who are seeking and seeing the benefits of running a 21st century Asian Restaurant.
We have created a great big fuck off mother of a revolution in Asian Cuisine born from frustration in Torquay and we are exporting it all over the UK. If you want to join us just engage with us through Facebook. If my language offends anyone in any way apologies, I just want to underline that we are very serious in what we are doing, present tense. And we all say fuck sometimes get over it.
H&C News would like to thank Rehan for the interview and we look forward to following progress at the Asian Restaurant Owners Network.