This little restaurant at 456 Jinling Dong Lu, East of People’s Square, opened on January 1st and has been packed almost every night since. I happened to stop by on January 2nd, was treated very well, and have gone back a number of times. Shanghai restaurants have extraordinarily high turnover rates, so I was especially excited to find a new business to track the progress of. The place’s name translates to Steamed Treasure From Eight Sides, which advertises the diversity of foods served, including Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, and traditional Chinese cuisine. The menu is considered to be an experimental blend of both modern and ancient tastes. To the managers, chefs, and waiters, though, the name has more than just a culinary meaning. Each individual, whether customer or employee, is an asset to the business and adds to its wealth of diversity.
The restaurant has two managers, Jackie Lin and his Taiwanese business partner, a former professor of business at Fudan University, Shanghai. Jackie speaks pretty good English and teaches me a little Chinese every time I visit. Above, he is kindly writing some survival phrases for me (though I can’t read the Chinese alphabet…). Foreigners automatically feel more comfortable with Jackie around to translate for them, but what most of them probably don’t realize is that the restaurant, Jackie’s passion, is not his only occupation. As a day job, he is a security guard at a steel shop and his schedule is lengthy. He leaves his home at 0630, takes a bus to the steel shop, works from 0800 to 1600, takes another bus to the restaurant, and manages from 1830 to around 2200 or 2300. He always looks tired when I stop by. From what I can tell, this is a typical Shanghainese lifestyle. Jackie’s partner, the professor, can always be found reclining against one of the back seats with his legs crossed and a cigarette casually held in his left hand. Friends drop by to chat. This also seems to be a typical Shanghainese lifestyle. According to Jackie, the professor has helped found over 2000 stores, not all his own businesses, ranging from Tibetan restaurants to coffee shops and bars. When he was in his 20’s, he studied small business development in Japan.
Pictured above is a Japanese dish, salty chicken soup served in a teapot, that I tried on the house. Below, is a Korean dish of meat, egg, and vegetables over rice. This is one of the restaurant’s most expensive dishes priced at about 28 RMB or 4 USD. Rice at the bottom is always burned by the hot ceramic, but the burnt rice actually tastes good. About half of the menu – no English, just pictures – is Taiwanese and there’s a special bun that Jackie plans to launch soon and has great hopes for. Last time I visited, I interviewed Jackie about the ordeals of starting a restaurant business in Shanghai. In January ’09, he conceived of the idea of the restaurant and started looking for a location in June ’10. It wasn’t until November ’09 that he found his current location on Jinling Lu. Unfortunately, another buyer was vying for the same place and had more money upfront. Jackie kept trying, though he had no written objectives, and after many discussions with the landlord he sold his idea. He attributes this success to his “special and new” styles of blending common foods. Each chef at his restaurants can prepare about 100 dishes, though they typically stick to their specialties. Most of them responded to online postings and only after an interview did the managers judge if the cook was a good fit for their restaurant. In the first 12 days of operation, about 8 staff left and 10 joined. His core staff includes two others who speak English and one who speaks Japanese.
Construction on the 1920’s French-style building started on December 3. To give you an idea of Shanghai progress, the restaurant started with no furniture or kitchen, but was complete by January 1st, opening day. Furniture and kitchen devices were chosen from a local Shanghai factory within this one-month window of construction. Only the floor remains the same. Moreover, since then, authorities’ remarks have resulted in small modifications to the restaurant design, including a more prominent barrier between the kitchen and dining area. Now that the Shanghai Expo is approaching, authorities are inspecting restaurants about twice a month.
The restaurant serves almost 150 a day. Not bad for a small start-up. “Someday I’ll write a book ,” Jackie suggested with a shrug and proceeded to explain how every aspect of his business venture happened by chance. When he was a little boy, he had wanted his own business and the thought of running a restaurant crossed his mind. Now, he considers his dream to have come true. Though he still toils through his steel job, he has something to live for.