Suga waited a month to visit Jamaica’s 1st and only Vietnamese Restaurant located in Manor Centre.
Coincidentally, I went two Saturdays ago, which happened to be the Saturday following its marketing publication on Thursday, August 24 in one of our local papers, The Jamaica Observer.
It was a bad day. Positives? All their dishes such as Spring Rolls, Rice, Vegetable, Beef and Chicken dishes, Soups, Salads, Sandwiches and Dessert cost less than $800JMD. So, I was only impressed with their reasonable prices and modern decor. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. I was approached by two young ladies after I left, who asked my opinion of the experience and expressed their dissatisfaction.
I found the contrast of views to be interesting between them as foodies, and a member of the Chaine des Rôtisseurs (International Association of Gastronomy, IAG) who also dined there that day. The ladies believed that, since they are just opening everything should be on point, versus the IAG member who was quick to opine that you cannot judge an establishment within their first month of opening.
I agree with both views, but not entirely. I know of Restaurants that have gotten it right within the 1st month of opening. Nirvanna Indian Fusion Cuisine, Great Escape – Runaway Bay, Jamaica Liquor Warehouse Deli, Cellar 8 and Hard Rock Cafe – Montego Bay are some of those Restaurants, just to name a few.
Since it can be done, what excuses do the Restaurants that don’t get it right have? When is it suitable not to judge and to tolerate teething pains?
It is suitable to tolerate teething pains when the owners are willing to seek general feedback via all mediums whether face to face, over the telephone or via direct messaging. Also, when the owners are willing to have respectful, balanced discussions with dissatisfied diners and are inclined to accept honest, negative feedback and suggestions so that they can prepare themselves with solutions to turn things around as quickly as possible.
Vi Nguyen, one of the founders for 4U Vietnam Restaurant spoke with Suga, and is excited about bringing something new to the Jamaican market and would like to guide her staff to do their best to improve the Restaurant everyday.
Obstacles and Outlooks
● Lack of Owners’/Managerial Presence
It is critical for an owner to oversee their Restaurant for at least the first 3 months after opening, put in the marketing and stress test the Restaurant. Nguyen, who does not live here and has a different career overseas, got a taste of Jamaican reality. It was a reality check in terms of how long things can take to get going in Jamaica because of various regulations and just how slow the overall process is to open an establishment compared to the USA and Vietnam. It definitely surpassed her time here of 4 months, so she had to leave shortly after the opening to return to work.
There was also unexpected difficulty in getting visas for overseas staff members, which include another Chef and Manager.
She will return to Jamaica in about a week and four other members of staff from overseas, with experience in Vietnamese cuisine should be arriving in November.
● Overwhelmed staff members leading to an increased shortage of staff
After my visit, where they were one server short, a new server was trained and employed to replace the previous server.
● Shortage of Ingredients, thus lack of authenticity compared to Vietnamese Restaurants overseas, a limited menu and being unable to offer certain options at a late time on a busy day
A huge shipment of ingredients and supplies is on its way. There is a consideration to eventually buy land here and grow various ingredients such as lemon grass as well.
Why is lemon grass short in Jamaica? Despite the global demand for lemon grass essential oil and the relative ease with which the plant grows in Jamaica, it is not produced commercially.(Jamaica Observer, May 20, 2012)
***Note that one of my brothers’ favourite cuisine in the States is Vietnamese, so I had no choice but to experience it several times and I enjoyed it. Clean, healthy and fresh eating with kicks of herbal flavour. I am looking forward to having this plan realised.
● Will they take the risk of Participating in Restaurant Week this November?
Yes, but they will only be doing the Lunch Special, which is the most manageable option.
It was a pleasure speaking with Vi Nguyen. It was refreshing to hear how genuinely passionate and eager she is about her plans to improve the Restaurant. I hope they overcome the various setbacks by December and persevere, as I think there is a lot of potential for the Restaurant to improve and possibly grow into a franchise here in Jamaica.
Good luck to Vi Nguyen and the team. Suga will visit again.
4U Vietnam Restaurant
Location: Khemlani Plaza, Manor Centre. Kgn. 8
Ph: 876-616-8367; 876-305-0943
Opening Hours: Mon-Thurs: 11am-8pm; Fri- Sat: 11am-9pm; Sun: 2pm-9pm
By: Gabrielle Burgess
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