Just before Christmas, I was incredibly sad to hear that one of Sydney’s best-known Vietnamese catering services had gone into voluntary administration.
The entrepreneurial Miss Chu, named after its founder Nahji Chu, had opened ten shops across Sydney and Melbourne, one in London with a turnover of $20mil turnover in 2013. She now places much of the blame for the company’s downturn on a former manager – described by at least one Urbanspoon reviewer as rude and “hates customers” – and says she realised too late the damage that was done. Other reviews on Yelp and Urbanspoon are certainly mixed, with some praising Miss Chu’s fresh take on Vietnamese “fast food”, while others denounce the small, expensive portions and inconsistent food quality. Then of course, there are the controversial marketing tactics and public feuds with other restauranteurs.
In spite of the divided opinions, until now Miss Chu has been a very successful businesswoman with a powerful story to tell. Hospitality is a notoriously tough industry – aside from the incredibly long hours and back-breaking labour, it’s financially very risky, and more restaurants are closing than are opening. Miss Chu’s troubles show how hard it can really be.
If an established business like Miss Chu can fall, for a fledgling food truck, it’s even harder. Shortly before the launch of You Chews, the Sydney-based Gourmet Rotisserie were serving up the most delicious rotisserie chicken and ham rolls, with mouthwatering crispy roasted potatoes, at Frenchs Forest Market. Not only was I lucky enough to partake in their food – an amazing, thickly sliced to order, free-range, double smoked ham roll, served on a soft brioche, adorned with homemade cranberry chutney and creamy Dijon sauce … sorry, I’m getting carried away by the memory – but the photograph has become an iconic image in symbolising what You Chews stands for, one that we’ve used in countless pitches.
The Gourmet Rotisserie was exactly the kind of small, local food business that I thought would benefit from our online platform – not to mention the hundreds of hungry people who would have enjoyed their food. The lovely couple who owned the Gourmet Rotisserie were indeed very keen for more business. Before launching, they hadn’t realised that they needed a food truck license which were only allotted to a select few businesses by the City of Sydney. Failure to procure one of these licenses meant that, while the Gourmet Rotisserie was allowed to cook food off-premise in their home council and transport it to the CBD, they were expressly NOT allowed to drive into the CBD and cook onsite to serve the masses. This severely restricted their ability to sell their food.
The markets, their main source of income, were also a challenge – each council required a separate (and expensive) permit to cook onsite, and their sales were dependent upon the weather, competition amongst vendors, and market opening times. The Frenchs Forest market closed at 1pm – right around the time people wanted a chicken roll for lunch. They’d spent many thousands of dollars getting a custom-made food truck shipped over from France, and were clearly struggling to make ends meet.
Six months later when You Chews launched, the Gourmet Rotisserie was the first business I called to see if they could provide lunch catering for 50 people. Their daughter answered the phone and explained I’d have to find someone else to help me – they were out of business.
Learning the Gourmet Rotisserie wasn’t going to be selling any more delicious ham rolls made me sad – then angry – for all of the passionate foodies out there who pour their hearts, souls and bank accounts into their businesses, sticking it out when things get tough, only for their stories to end in the same way as the Gourmet Rotisserie. I’m also sad and angry every time I see a pile of crappy cold pizzas at a Meetup event when it could have just as easily been a tray of those delicious ham rolls. For the short time we humans are on the planet, our taste buds should not be deprived of ham rolls like the Gourmet Rotisserie’s because of red tape and regulation! And the people who want to make their living through delicious food should be able to do so.
So I’m proud to be able to say that now there is another option for those passionate food vendors who find it difficult to get enough business. When even the finest of Viennoise bakers or the hottest hot dog joint in Sydney have struggled to keep their doors open, You Chews is on a foodie mission to ensure the best of the best of the local food scene are able to stay in business by catering for your office. Sydney’s hungry office workers need not suffer any longer from stale sandwiches during meetings or soggy spring rolls at events, because we can offer you a DIY pulled pork roll or Sydney’s best Banh Mi instead. The best part? You’ll be directly supporting the local food community.
Miss Chu, from all of us at You Chews, we hope you come back bigger and stronger in Sydney – and we hope to tempt you to join You Chews and reach even more customers. For the other foodie-preneurs out there who are struggling, or who are interested in doing office catering, please feel free to reach out! You Chews would love to help you – you’ll be joining a welcoming community that truly aspires to see you and your business succeed.