REAL STORIES ABOUT KITCHEN REALITIES
Shift Notes is a digital space on The Hungry Post’s platform for hospitality professionals. It is a safe space to vent and speak your truth about the past, present and future of our industry. It’s unfiltered and real. We’ve heard from Chef Michael Beltran, Chef Michelle Bernstein, Larry Carrino, Mike Ortiz and Lee Schrager. Up next is Jon Nguyen, chef and owner of Tran An.
We recently met Jon at his first brick and mortar shop that he opened this past weekend. Jon is a Cancer. We read a little bit about his sign to see if our initial impression matched what the internet has to say about his astrological sign. Yes, we’re doing this now.
Cancers are deeply intuitive and imaginative and this exactly what we got from Jon and his new restaurant. From the moment you step into Tran An, you know you’re in a special place. It’s inventive and what Miami needs, amplifying the parameters of Asian food, specifically Vietnamese cuisine.
Note, Jon wrote his Shift Notes several months back when Tran An remained closed. His optimism is inspiring and in retrospect, we think it’s cool to look back and see where he was three months ago and where he is today.
Jon: although you wrote it, this one’s for you…
March 18, 2020. I’ll never forget this day. This was the moment when I decided to close my restaurant inside Politan Row, Tran An.
My entire staff came in that morning to clean out our entire walk-in. My kitchen quickly shifted gears as it became a resource for my staff. I immediately asked them to take home all of the food we had. Encouraging them to make use of whatever they needed to take care of their families. I assured them that I would take care of them for as long as I could. But I could only do so much, and no one knew how long we would be out of work.
As this pandemic rapidly unfolded, many of them had to file for unemployment. Some even moved to different cities to find opportunities for work. I felt that it was of utmost importance for our team to stick together, even if we were far away. I checked in with each of them on a weekly basis to make sure their families were safe and healthy.
Three months later, I was able to bring back the team and made room for some great additions to our family.
These past three months have tested my abilities as a leader, an innovator and my resiliency as a business owner in ways I never imagined. With this said, I guess it’s important to backtrack a bit and point out that even before all this went down, I was in the building process of my 1st brick and mortar. We were initially set to be done with construction by the end of March. But as everything shut down, we didn’t see a point in rushing the opening. Instead, we’ve taken our time to really make sure every detail in our new space is accounted for.
From the outside looking in, anyone, including myself, would agree that opening a business during a time like this is nearly impossible – and strangely enough, this entire situation has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Firstly, I was able to pay our vendors in full when we closed our business. The project itself was financed before any of this went down, so we were able to provide work and payment for all of our contractors. In addition, our team grew as we prepared to take on 2 locations, even when we’re operating at a very limited volume. The fact that I was able to provide work opportunities for people during a time like this is something I hold at the highest priority.
Fast forward to the present, our brick and mortar is not open yet but, in the meantime, our team is still working, and our priorities have once again shifted to providing for our neighboring community. During our pre-opening process, we’ve been giving out free meals to our neighbors and the community every Sunday. Ultimately, the more lives we touch through our business, the less it becomes mine, and the more it belongs to everyone that supports it. I want our new restaurant to be a symbol of hope, safety, and compassion for anyone that we’re able to support through it and serve from it.
We’ve kept our team small enough to feel like we’re staying in our own “bubble”. We are taking all precautions on keeping everyone safe while working. With that being said, I know that every day when we leave our homes to work, it’s a risk. But we have to work. It’s imperative that I stay creative and find ways to serve our guests. Give people experiences that they can enjoy and remember while keeping them safe. In my eyes, ALL businesses, big or small, must serve an actual purpose during these times and that purpose cannot be about making money first and foremost.
We must create opportunities first, and find ways to just survive. If we’re able to make money in the process, then that’s great. As long as we can generate just enough revenue to keep our employees and provide for the community, then I feel like I’ve done my part. We all have a social responsibility to maintain the safety of everyone we come in contact with. As business owners, we are responsible for the livelihoods of everyone who depend on us to provide for their families. So the burden of sustaining opportunities falls directly on us. And if we are not conscious about the well-being of our own teams and guests, then we have to rethink why we’re in this business.
Through all of this, I have learned that human connection is the one force that makes the world move. We all have the ability to touch lives around us in a myriad of ways. Using kindness, compassion and empathy is the only way to find the answers for what we are looking for. I believe that if we all use the tools that humanity has given us, we can find a solution that will move us towards a brighter future.