The following interview was conducted by Amy Hong, the Tisch Center’s social media assistant. Amy is graduating this May; she is majoring in Event Management, and minoring in Food Studies.
Tim Ho Wan is a Dim Sum chain born in Hong Kong in 2009, acclaimed for its reputation as the “world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant.” With multiple locations around the world, in January 2017, they opened their first US location in the East Village in NYC. Since then, Tim Ho Wan has been growing in popularity. Tony Chan, the general manager, set aside time to speak to us about Tim Ho Wan on a busy Wednesday afternoon.
Unlike other Dim Sum restaurants in Chinatown or Flushing, Tim Ho Wan has a very modern interior with wooden furniture and minimal decorations. The restaurant is very bright, and customers are able to peek into the kitchen where the chefs are preparing the food. The restaurant is located at 4th Avenue and 10th Street. It is more quiet in the village than other locations in the city like midtown Manhattan, but Tim Ho Wan is always booming with lines of people waiting to be seated.
What is Tim Ho Wan?
Tim Ho Wan is a concept developed by Chef Mak Kuai Pui and Chef Leung Fai Keung in Hong Kong. They wanted to create more of a traditional, fresh, dim sum to be served both day and night, as opposed to other dim sum parlors where they traditionally serve dim sum in the day.
What differentiates Tim Ho Wan from other Dim Sum restaurants?
First of all, everything you eat, from the dim sum skins to fillings, are made fresh to order everyday in our prep room downstairs. We never reuse, freeze, or half cook our food. If you order dumplings at 10am or at 9pm, they would taste exactly the same.
Why the East Village?
Because New York City is the mecca of the world, Chef Mak and Chef Leung wanted to open their first United States location here. They chose the East Village because of its atmosphere that is quite different from Midtown or the Financial District, where it is always busy with so many people and noise. The East Village is in between those two areas, while still maintaining a reasonable number of foot traffic but with a more quiet environment.
Do you segment your market?
We don’t have particular targeting audiences or demographics, because we want Tim Ho Wan to appeal to everyone. We don’t discriminate. Food is food.
How is the business going? Are there any challenges?
The business is doing well (knock on wood). When you are in the restaurant business there are always challenges, for example: maintaining the hype about a concept, attracting new customers, and providing exceptional customer service. We think having great food, and training our staff to go above and beyond guest expectations will keep customers coming back and help grow our popularity.
How did you become the general manager of Tim Ho Wan?
After working in retail, I was managing an Applebee’s in the city. After a few years I was at a point where I felt that my career was stagnant and that I needed more of a challenge, so I wanted to explore the market. I put my resume on Indeed, and my boss Daniel found me! Daniel is the district manager of Tim Ho Wan.
How did you get interested in Restaurant Industry?
Even though I don’t show it, I’m a foodie. I have traveled to many different countries to just eat certain foods. I love to try different concepts. I’m always hungry. I follow a lot of people on Instagram, Yelp, and other social media to see what’s popular both for restaurants and food ideas around the world.
Did you study Restaurant Management?
No. I started as a retail manager in Macy’s. I love interacting with people, so I was interested in customer service and how to improve the overall experience. At Macy’s I took several professional development courses, where I was also certified with those programs. In college, I was interested in studying human behavior patterns.
What are your suggestions for future restaurant managers?
I strongly recommend they focus on food quality and customer service. Without these two, you will never be successful.
Does industry recognition help attract customers?
People in New York usually look at Zagat Guide, Michelin Guide or Yelp, and they do a lot of eating based on the reviews. With Tim Ho Wan’s original location earning a One Michelin Star, it helps because people will come to the restaurant based on their perception about the quality and experience a Michelin Star represents; but on the other hand, having a Michelin Star or any other industry recognition or award can create unrealistic expectations. For example, a restaurant typically earns the first One-Michelin star just for the consistency of their food. So that’s what we are trying to do in our East Village location. We want our food to taste delicious and exactly the same every time.
What are your future goals?
As Tony, just be happy. Yes. Be Happy. I will go as far as the heavens want me to go, but just be happy. As a General Manager, I want to be part of the process to grow Tim Ho Wan in the United States. I want everyone in NYC to be familiar to our restaurant, and enjoy our food.
What is your favorite food?
My favorite food is sushi. I am a huge sushi fan. I flew all the way to Osaka, Japan just to have sushi. My go to restaurant in the city is Tomoe Sushi on Thompson Street in the West Village. It is very small, but so good.
What is your dish recommendation in Tim Ho Wan?
I am a huge carb person, so I like any noodle, rice, or sticky rice dishes. I would strongly recommend the Har Gow, the shrimp dumplings. Like I said, the skin is handmade, the shrimp is juicy and tangy, and has a crunch to it. The sticky rice noodle dim sums are also good. Pretty much everything here is good because I believe that anything handmade is delicious. I also recommend Baked BBQ Pork Buns; they taste almost exactly the same in all our locations around the world. It is the number one signature dish we have.
NYU SPS offers several food and beverage, and restaurant management professional development courses and diploma programs.
To learn more, visit our website: http://www.sps.nyu.edu/academics/departments/tisch/academic-offerings/noncredit.html.