Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating from Owen?
I started my MBA in fall of 2018 and in that fall my Mom passed away suddenly. She had run three very successful restaurants on Belmont Boulevard. The ultimate goal was for me to get my MBA and graduate. She was going to step back and retire and I was going to take over the empire of restaurants. Unfortunately, with her passing, that accelerated a lot faster and I took over sooner than later. Since graduating, I have dived into the business. Belmont University bought the block where one of our restaurants, International Market is with an intent of tearing it down and building a big performing arts center. So my mom passed, International Market closed, and then they tore it down all while I was at Owen. The day International Market closed we made the decision to close our other restaurant, Blvd, which is directly across the street because the plan was to move International Market into this space. I took over and had to facilitate everything. That’s where I am now. It’s been tough because the pandemic hit. We actually closed all the restaurants. With my graduation getting cancelled, our big international trip getting cancelled and restaurants closing left and right I thought we needed to shut down. I didn’t want to start anything without the idea of knowing we’ll be able to open when we’re ready. During the pandemic, I took a break. I still was doing a ton of bills and paperwork but I took time to reflect and think if this was really what I wanted to be doing. I thought — let me make flowcharts and business plans and budgets just to see if it’s even feasible and make sure this was going to be a successful business. With the pandemic I thought who knows when we’ll be able to open, does it make sense? Since graduating I’ve been deep diving into a potential business that we’re opening and the potential success of a business to see if it was worth it.
What is your company and where did the idea come from? What served as the biggest motivator or influence in starting your company?
My mom moved from Thailand to Nashville and when she got to Nashville she couldn’t find anywhere to eat. She would cook, but she couldn’t find the ingredients. Southern cooking was all you could get here. She would drive to visit her brother in Chicago every once and awhile with my Dad. They had a van they would fill with things you can’t find here like rice and bags of sauces. Both of them realized they should just open a restaurant.
Being one of the first Asian/Thai restaurants is amazing – how can I walk away from that? The idea came from both my parents but we came up with the idea to move it together. International Market was one of the first Asian restaurants in Nashville and has been open for almost 40 years. I personally was like, “I can’t walk away from this. This is what I want. Mom knew this was going to happen. I want this to happen”. It just was an old restaurant. It had been around since 1975, over 40 years, and they didn’t have computer systems, didn’t have a website, didn’t have social media presence. These are all the sort of things that I am bringing to the new International Market 2.0.
Both my parents knew this was happening so that was probably my biggest motivator. The second was the legacy of it all. I loved tradition and I couldn’t walk away from that. It’s such a neighborhood. I don’t want it to become a destination restaurant where the bachelorettes and tourists come. I want it to be that home spot where the locals go and feel comfortable at. The legacy of it is just wonderful to me and I don’t want to leave that.
What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge?
The hardest part is that there’s no checklist. You can’t predict what’s going to happen or what needs to happen and I’m coming across this daily. With my parents passing, we’ve had to deal with a lot of paperwork with things getting transferred to our name and with the pandemic, a lot of pieces of mail have been getting lost. That’s the hardest thing – there’s no one to tell me “this is what needs to be done next” or guide me through it. I have to make my own way and there’s always going to be an obstacle in the way. There are a lot of roadblocks that you have to try to break through before you can move forward and there’s no teaching that. There’s no class that’s going to teach that, there’s no book that you can read that will tell you how to do it, you just have to learn as you go.
What qualities are most important to possess as an entrepreneur?
You have to be extremely organized and have people skills. You have to be able to talk to people and ask for help when you need it because again there is no checklist. Other qualities would be the ability to plan ahead and have insight to what’s next. Even though I said “you don’t know what’s next”, you have to also have an idea of what to do and what’s next. I make a list of things to accomplish every Sunday for the week.
What are you most proud of about your business?
International Market 2.0 will open in the Spring of 2021. I think when it opens I’ll be the most proud of that. I don’t have children but I would love to pass it along. I don’t want to put pressure on them, my parents never put pressure on me but I do like that I grew up in the restaurant. I always had a job. It helped make me who I am today with my numbers because my parents never gave me anything — they made me work for it. If I wanted to go on spring break or study abroad I had to pay for it. I would work over the holiday and summer breaks to save up. Not just for me but all my friends. My mom gave them all jobs if they needed it. I like that I would be able to help. It’s not just the restaurant feeding the neighborhood and having it be a spot to go hangout. I want it to be somewhere where young adults can come and get jobs, learn an industry and become responsible. For me to help them do that, that’s what my mom did and I would love to keep that going. But of course, feed all the people in Nashville. I would love and be proud of that.
What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? Are there any tools you consistently use as an entrepreneur?
Have the passion. You have to have the passion and drive because if you‘re not passionate or driven you’re not going to be successful or want to make it successful. I wake up, eat, breathe, sleep our businesses. I think about everything all the time. Some people just want a nine to five and that’s okay too but I don’t. If you want that you probably shouldn’t start your own business because that’s not how it’s going to work. You have to be willing to lose sleep thinking about things. Of course you’ll be able to check out sometimes but it’s your life. You have to be willing to give up things to make something you care about successful. You have to be passionate and driven because you have to be willing to speak up for your own business and take full ownership of it. Nobody is going to do it for you, you have to do it for yourself.
As far as resources, there’s some people who have been around the food scene forever and I talk to them a lot if I need some help. Even if it’s just a friend, we talk about the woes and the troubles. It’s nice to have someone who can relate. I have a good network of people in the industry. Aside from that my classmates at Owen have helped me with some business things and I’ve bounced ideas off them. We still have our big group chat and if anyone has any questions or advice we’ll throw something out there and get to hear their opinions.
What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?
I hangout with my dog and cook a lot. People don’t really know that. My brother is a celebrity chef but people don’t realize I cook too because I am more behind the scenes. I’m also very crafty. I’m one of those people if I see something trendy happening I have to prove to myself that I can do it too. Once I do it I’m onto the next. I’ve always been creative. I’m also very social. It’s hard to see all my friends with the pandemic but we try to make it work to meet up and go for walks. I’m still a buyer at heart too so I love to shop and find good deals.