We had the good fortune of connecting with Diane and Willet Feng and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Diane and Willet, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
When starting one’s own business, the thought process typically starts with, “Am I ready?” I still didn’t know the answer to that question after cooking for other people and under different chefs for eight years. For me, I think one is never truly ready, but there comes a point where you just have to go for it. Once the decision to open your own venture is set, it’s a matter of priorities. You can’t accomplish everything, so what matters the most? How do you want to set yourself apart? What are you going to do differently from others you’ve worked for? These questions are the most meaningful. If the answer is “nothing” and your plan is simply to emulate, then I don’t think you should start your own business. You aren’t adding value to your industry. I may not have felt ready, but I knew what I wanted to improve upon. I knew I would have higher standards. I knew I could figure out how to do things with less cross-contamination than virtually all the places I’ve ever worked at. And I knew I could put out a tasty product.
What should our readers know about your business?
Question: Other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success? Answer: Taking a stance and accepting the consequences. That prevents people—whether that’s customers or your employees—from taking advantage of you. For example, we had a staff member who showed up late regularly. We were okay with it to an extent; we understood they had a second job and recognized that it’s hard to get up early after working day and night. But one day they showed up several hours late, and I had to send them home immediately upon arrival to set an example. I was down two other cooks already—so could really use the help, but I needed everyone to know that habitual and extreme tardiness was not acceptable. Thankfully, one of the two other cooks was able to come in after a doctor’s appointment, so we didn’t completely drown. It wasn’t pretty, but it was better than the alternative: having staff consistently show up late since they think it’s okay.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This is a difficult question to answer right now since we spend most of our time at home in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In lieu of naming any particular places, I think it’s important to patronize establishments that are unique to Houston. Houston is an extremely diverse city, so there are many areas that are worth exploring–from Montrose to Asiatown to The Heights.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Willet: My parents Chi-Chin and Nancy deserve a huge shoutout. Throughout my formative years, they gave me enough space to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. They never pressured me to follow a particular path. They also provided–and continue to provide–constant and unwavering support.
Jaclyn Warren Shannon O’Hara Vivian Leba Collaborate LLC Conor Moran