My dream is more cooperation between Chinese restaurants
Interview in Lausanne with the boss of Chen Xin Group, Ms Chen Mei Xiang.
Five brothers and sisters jointly operate the Chen Xin Group which has seven restaurants in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, all located next to the busy train station. Foreigners in Switzerland starting their own business have to understand the cultural differences, overcome language barriers and raise the capital. However, the more important point is to have personal credibility- Today we have the opportunity to get to know Miss Chen Meixiang, her wisdom and mind set as well as her story how she runs her restaurant.
Studying in Lausanne for several months, this restaurant was close to my place I rented. Each time I walked by, I saw people leisurely eating. Finally one day at dusk, before returning home, I went inside. And I fell in love with this restaurant. When I like a restaurant, I often return to the place to enjoy the feeling again, but also as a habit. Everyone has his own favourite flavour and favourite restaurants. Today I am in this restaurant in Avenue Louis-Ruchonnet 1 in Lausanne where I go most often. It is called “Restaurant Asia-Express”.
EurAsia Info: Hello Ms Chen, I have come to this restaurant on behalf of the “EurAsia Info” today and I am grateful for this opportunity to visit you! Can you can tell us your story and have a chat with me?
Ms Chen Mei Xiang said with a smile: My name is Chen Mei Xiang, coming from Fuzhou, people here call me Lucie Chen. This restaurant in Lausanne was opened in 2009 and is now operating for more than seven years. In the beginning we served Cantonese food but now we are mainly selling Sichuan and some Thai food. This restaurant is very close to the railway station, so people arriving at the train station just have to walk for two minutes and can already see our signs- Our family has seven Thai and Chinese restaurants in the vicinity of the station.
EurAsia Info: So many guests come to this restaurant because they see your sign. Are there other ways to promote your restaurant? Do you advertise?
Chen Mei Xiang: We have this Asia-Express Restaurant for many years and its name is fairly well-known. So we can rely on the guests recommending it to other guests. In their eyes it is equivalent to fast speed and high quality at the same time. There are not many such kind of quality fast food restaurants around. Many of our guests know this is dining at a low price but with superior quality and excellent service attitude.
EurAsia Info: You just mentioned the quality of the restaurant. How do you control the quality?
Chen Mei Xiang: For example, we make sure keep good quality of the ingredients. We have an Asian supermarket, mainly selling Asian food. It is fresh, specially coming from Thailand with a special delivery, particularly fresh vegetables because they are not produced in Switzerland. Rice and noodles are also coming from Thailand, the meat is coming from Switzerland.
EurAsia Info: Why do you import from Thailand?
Chen Mei Xiang: Because you cannot buy vegetables like son or this water spinach from local producers. On the other hand, China is too are away; importing it from there would mean too much trouble.
EurAsia Info: Are there any other potential buyers with you e.g. other restaurants?
Chen Mei Xiang: There are a lot of Vietnamese restaurants also selling vegetables.- However if they are just privately ordering, there is not enough quantity and then the price is too high,
We ship the goods from Thailand directly to your door. Whether you buy ten packages instead of one, there is a big price difference; for small quantities, the price can easily be 30% worse. However, we have not expanded this part of our business, our most important task is operating a restaurant, just ensuring that there is enough raw material to keep the quality of our restaurant.
EurAsia Info: Is someone assisting you for the transportation process? How do you know how it works?
Chen Mei Xiang: My husband is in charge of the supermarket. He is managing the ordering process and any related problems.
EurAsia Info: I see that you are having a buffet for lunch today. Can tell us more about that?
Chen Mei Xiang: At noon we normally serve sushi and Cantonese cuisine and have a Sichuan-based buffet. Dinner is Sichuan-based, particularly spicy, as well as grilled fish, pickled fish, salt and pepper pork ribs. That’s all very popular with our local guests who like it very much.
We also provide a comfortable yet elegant atmosphere, a friendly service and have a chef carefully selecting fresh ingredients and delivering superb craftsmanship cuisine. Our aim is giving you an economical but noble service with dozens of different dishes and dim sums, freshly cooked and very tasty, satisfying your desire for good food.
EurAsia Info: Do you also serve meals for groups?
Chen Mei Xiang: We can also receive groups; we have more than 120 seats. This normally happens at Chinese New Year festival when we can also provide the facility for karaoke or for special opportunities, parties or festivals. However, meals for groups have to be booked in advance.
EurAsia Info: For how much does one person normally consume here?
Chen Mei Xiang: For the lunch buffet from Monday to Saturday, the cost per person is Fr.22.50,
The hot pot from Monday to Sunday for lunch and dinner cots Fr. 35 per person. Our specialty here is fish which is especially popular with Chinese students who like tasty food.
EurAsia Info: I think you are so busy and have so many things to do. What is your lifestyle to cope with that?
Chen Mei Xiang: I normally get up at eight every day and then I am been busy until ten or eleven. In the afternoon I can rest for one to two hours and on Sunday for half a day. Entrepreneurship is not so easy but fortunately my husband supports me, helping me to look for the child. The shop is closed on weekends but the restaurants is quite busy then. So he takes care of the child at home.
EurAsia Info: How much is the monthly rent for this place?
Chen Mei Xiang: About fifteen thousand currently.
EurAsia Info: What are your hopes and dreams?
Chen: My dream is that the bosses of Chinese restaurants in Switzerland find more opportunities for exchanges and cooperation, solidarity and mutual assistance. Every time I return home I notice that the Chinese restaurants are cooperating much more.
EurAsia Info: In which sense?
Chen: Many owners of Chinese restaurants are always sitting together, with relatives or friends, in order to discuss their business and jointly improve the quality of the restaurant. I am now in the restaurant industry in Switzerland for over ten years and have noticed that there are very few Chinese restaurateurs gathering together to chat, whether it is about food purchasing or improving operational knowledge.
I like to work with the other owners of Chinese restaurants that we unite forces and can improve the food purchase prices, negotiating jointly with the suppliers, so that we can also get better profits.
Improving quality is another important topic for restaurants in Switzerland. Although more and more restaurants open, there is a lack of communication with each other. The bosses of Chinese restaurants should unite and exchange experiences to learn from each other. With this sort of cooperation of all restaurants, we could achieve a higher quality.
EurAsia Info: Switzerland has many sorts of associations. Do you want to organize a Food Industry Association?
Chen: I do not know about the associations in Switzerland. However, there is no cooperation as we have in Fuzhou. There the restaurant industry is in close cooperation. We could certainly improve the quality here by sharing new ideas, Chinese are doing this in their country.
EurAsia Info: If people in Fuzhou can read this story, what do you want to tell them?
Chen: Hello everyone, I would be honoured, if you travel to Switzerland to visit our restaurant. If a family has children coming here for study, I could teach them how to handle some of the local procedures. I would be happy to consult the Chinese students coming here; I am willing to answer any questions from them.
EurAsia Info:( laughs) How can you have so much time to answer questions?
Chen: I am willing to do this and I would be very happy to do it.
EurAsia Info: Switzerland currently seems to have no Restaurant Association. I think you will soon realize this wish. Thank you sharing this wonderful dream with us!
I love to experience different restaurants and to enjoy different food. In addition to the food, I love to visit decorated restaurants, feeling the service, the background music, the atmosphere and the guests. A restaurant with theis dedication to small details is one of my favourites.
Interview By: EurAsia Info team
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