Happy One Month Anniversary to Rice House

“This will never work in Evergem.”

“Don’t set your expectations too high.”

“People in Evergem won’t be into new stuff.”

This is only some of what I was told to my face, and what was said behind my back.

~

One month and hundreds of pounds of rice dished later, I’ve lost two dress sizes and some blood and hair and pride. Running the first-ever Korean takeaway and grocery in Ghent, in the middle of my own town Evergem, has been unlike any drug I’ve ever taken in my life. If you’re into that kind of high…

My husband Davy and I work together in the evening on the weekends Friday through Sunday. I run Rice House alone for both lunch and dinner on Wednesdays and Thursdays plus lunch on Fridays. In Belgium when you open an eenmanszaak it means you don’t have staff. You CAN have staff, but then it defeats the purpose of being a “onemanshop,” in literal translation, and costs are very high to implement staff in the first place here in Belgium. Employees are protected ferociously in this country, and it’s not a bad thing.

So we did and do most everything ourselves from construction to design and marketing and advertising, cutting each vegetable and slicing the meat, and even scraping crud off any secondhand equipment we purchased. Rice House is the culmination of some things old, some things new, some things borrowed and some things blue. RiceHouseToGo.com is a free WordPress theme, and we just paid $20 to procure the domain name.  We cut corners where we could without compromising quality or ethics. Prices at our “competitors” are insanely high, and we are trying to show everyone that it’s possible to put in the extra work and make money without raping customers’ wallets.

I like to refer to Rice House as my eenvrouwszaak, because I am a woman. There’s no reason I can’t say proudly that I’m a “onewomanshop.” So as a proud woman I opened Rice House, as sole proprietor. I put aside some of my pride, in little things, where customers came first.

Davy has years of earlier experience in the food and beverage industry, in addition to his abilities to work a forklift like as a docker at the Port of Ghent. Davy did not leave his position, neither at the docks nor at the union, just because we opened Rice House. Again, that would defeat the purpose of being recognized as a sole proprietorship. Rice House is mine. It’s not a corporation or a business, in legal terms, but simply a money-maker in a country where entrepreneurship and family businesses are encouraged and rewarded in different ways. It’s a part of living in a socialistic country. There’s no way I could have just set up shop and opened a Korean takeaway in New York in two months time, and with no bank loan to boot.

Yet here, it happened.

So Davy didn’t leave his job, and my momz didn’t stay in Belgium in some happily ever after, and it’s now been a month since Rice House opened its doors to the public. The first weekend and week, Davy and I were a hot mess. I did more things wrong than I did right, but I never gave up. I forgot things here and there and completely fucked up other times. I made no excuses but apologized when I needed to, even to myself after cutting myself all over my hands and even burning my hairline on my fiery stove. Suzy. Suzy the stove surpassed my expectations and does still.

I have only eaten in restaurants and having never worked in one I had no idea the power of Suzy. So I ended up burning my cute little baby hairs above my forehead that first week. Nobody knew though, because I didn’t shriek or let on in any way as the stink of burnt hair rushed up my nose. I burned some sauces that week too, and started cooking like a beginner. I realize I’m hardest on myself but still…

I made a shit ton of money Week One, but I feel guilty because I was not at my best. If I could, then I’d ask everyone who visited Rice House the first week to give me a second chance. Some have already, and it’s encouraging and not taken for granted. I listen to everyone and implement changes where I can. We received feedback that the “over-rice” style of our bowls was discouraging for those who worked through their meal to find “only rice at the bottom.” And so we changed our serving style and pushed the rice all the way to one side of our bowls so that the rest of the meal could fall next to it, ensuring more perfect bites in balance.

That first week I decided to change our opening hours. I removed Tuesday dinner service from our hours so that I’d have both Monday and Tuesday as two whole days off. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made to-date.

Then the second week…

Things got a lot better, because my mother was here visiting from New York.

MomzMeKitchen

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Momz landed at Brussels International Airport just a few hours earlier, and we’d not seen each other in over a year but we were together again under Rice House’s roof. She’s the tortoise to my hare, yet she happily and heartily set to work as my sous chef for the next 3 weeks. She played with Noah and walked the 15 minutes from our home, Noah-in-stroller, and gave me strength at Rice House every day.

She told me, in English, “I feeling happy when I walking in here to Rice House.” And to think, my mother tried to take her life so many years ago in grief over my father’s passing in 2004. 10 years later and she’s a grandmother and kickass kimchi maker!

So, I realized Weeks Two and Three that I’d miscalculated how much beef, chicken and shrimp I’d go through. I’d thought they’d all sell equally as well, but the first three weeks the chicken and shrimp flew off the woks and the beef didn’t. Who knew? I didn’t. I don’t know everything, and this is a rare confession. So I made adjustments, including the decision to close for lunch service on Saturdays. It was a good idea, in theory, but a total flop. We’ve since only opened in the evenings on Saturdays, and I couldn’t be happier to have Saturday mornings and afternoons with my Noah and Davy!

Alas…momz continued to be flabbergasted every day at how much work iso actually put into Rice House. She’d never seen me do anything but bounce around as a fashionable corporate banker, and she certainly didn’t think I’d be wearing an apron and doing a mountain of dishes at the end of every night in my late 30s. To say my mother proud of me would be like saying I was proud of Rice House.

It’s more than about pride.

And then while momz was still here, during Week 4, someone left this comment on the first blog I ever wrote about Rice House (quite old):

Angry Comment

I share this because I share everything, good and bad.

To say this comment didn’t bother me would be a straight-out lie. But I knew it wasn’t a regular customer and so did momz. Momz was upset too, and it angered me that it affected my mother like that. It only fueled our fire and love of rice!

I’ve since added fresh coriander to the Rice House Bowls, giving each bowl an extra kick. Just like I did cooking in the Big Brother house, if a customer has a special request then I happily oblige. Less sauce or more sauce or sauce apart, or less rice or no rice, even some no vegetables requests. Allergies to garlic or this or that, are paid special attention to. I want everyone’s vote in the end…

I’m loving what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I love my family. I love Rice House. I love my mother, who returned to New York this past Tuesday.

Thank you all for taking this ride with me!

Always dishing,

Jun

31 Comments

  1. greenday61892

    That’s pretty shitty that that customer felt the need to ANONYMOUSLY hurl overly-harsh “constructive” criticism at you. Congrats on a month and I’m SURE it’ll last years to come!

    Reply
  2. Erin McSweeney

    Wow this is amazing that you have been able to open the business of your heart. Its nice that their are still places in the world that embrace that type of free spirit ….I can’t wait to hear over the years how this business enhances you and your families life.

    Reply
  3. Thank you so much for sharing Jun. I never doubted your would succeed. It’s just who you are. I’m thrilled Momz was able to visit. I bet she went home and took a vacation lol Keep on keepin’ on! Continued good luck!

    Reply
  4. Beth

    So wonderful to read a nice long Rice House Blog! It sounds crazy, wonderful and it’s yours. Not to be presumptuous, but I’m really proud of you. Somebody once told me that perfection is the enemy of progress. So, for every step back you will take two steps forward and keep getting better and better. As we say Yasou! (Blessings)

    PS. I’m a union member, like Davy.. working conditions in Belgium sound amazing! Tell him Beth from NH says Solidarity!

    Reply
  5. We never stop learning. The key is to take what you learn and run with it, and you certainly are doing that. Another blog that made me cry though. My heart doubled its size when I read the paragraph, “She told me in English…”. I so admire your determination and spirit. Keep up the good work, and thanks for finding the time to share this experience. I love reading about it, so when time allows, please keep us posted.

    Reply
  6. redibrd

    Excited that Rice House is doing well, both for you and the town. I hope you have continued success and flourish. Thank you for sharing your world with all of us. Wish I were there to try your menu!! Way to go Jun!

    Reply
  7. DB

    I am so excited and proud of you…I am a nobody to you, but have so enjoyed all that you share with us. I wasn’t a fan until several years after your season..however have been a fan of you in life. Congratulations and I wish for you and your beautiful family only the absolute best today and all of the tomorrow’s!
    I wanted to say something most wise, encouraging, and heartfelt to you on May 1st. (Which would’ve been my first to you, I could not…my Mom unexpectedly passed on the first… Leaving me heartbroken beyond measure). So May 1st will forever be weird for me, my loss of my Momz and my hope for a fellow american, both of whom I care about and admire!
    Best wishes to you and yours! Always!
    DB

    Reply
  8. Wow, Jun! You are an inspiration, no doubt! Talk about “keep on truckin'”….As a woman who has never had the courage to step out of the box, I am so proud of you and I know that you are inspiring other women to follow their dreams. Good for you 🙂 Hugs to your Momz…and of course, Davy and Noah! I hope your Momz gets to come back and help out more often.

    Reply
  9. I hope Food Network comes calling on you. Now, there’s the big bucks! They film you for a week – get a bunch of shows out of you, and you’ll be doing what you love…being creative, teaching us all how to make those lovely dishes while you share stories about your family. You’ve got the “it factor” Jun – go for it! Send in a demo – there’s no one like you on there.

    Reply
  10. Sparky

    I second what Joyce said. I knew you would adapt and change as needed to succeed. That is just who you are and one facet of what makes you succeed. Keep on keepin on. Love you guys.

    Reply
  11. keida

    I’m very happy for you. Keep working and changing. You’re doing great. Love the blogs. I’m selfish like that. Thank you for letting us know how the business is going. I’m sure you’re worn out. Do your thang girl.

    Reply
  12. Successful people reinvent themselves, as needed, which says volumes about you, Jun! Plus, you obviously already know that family is more important than anything else.

    When you have the time, you ought to post a photo of yourself, all skinny and sleek – and hopefully not too haggard. Sounds like you’re taking steps to correct your exhaustion, though.

    I had read that very negative comment and noted that it had a spiteful quality. Although I wanted to respond to the writer, I decided it didn’t warrant a response because it was written is such a nasty tone. I’m guessing someone in the Evergem area is jealous of you, Jun. Maybe Davey’s old girlfriend? lol Or maybe someone who is jealous of you in other ways, such as – well, everything – such as your absolute boldness and honesty, being a reality tv show winner, having a happy marriage and an adorable child, your being a college honors graduate, not to mention being an entertainment maven and having the boldness to plunge, headlong, into another culture, and much more…! I guess if I didn’t admire you so, I would be bitter and jealous, too! lol

    Love your spirit, Jun. Blessings to you and your lovely family.

    Reply
  13. Carrie

    it was dry after s/he reheated it for how long in the microwave? how are you responsible for something that is reheated by someone else? was it popped in without a lid, losing all the moisture? I’ve never been able to duplicate the taste of food from a restaurant when reheating it – not a fair assessment and mean to post something like this without giving you the opportunity to fix –

    Reply
  14. I feel weird saying I’m “proud” of you but I can’t think of a better word. You’re working so hard and learning each day. How wonderful to be able to witness the process from afar.

    I wish you so much success and enjoyment!

    Reply
  15. Pat

    Congrats! I have not been on line for a few weeks, so I missed this blog. I am so happy for you. You are kicking ass…..haters gonna hate. Probably a jealous old girlfriend of Davy’s. LOL
    I’m also happy Momz could share this with you.
    I am soooooo enjoying this ride with you!
    Keep dishing
    Pat

    Reply
  16. SaraK

    First off, congratulations on your restaurant! It’s going to be one of the most incredible experiences due to your love of food.

    Take that’s customer’s harsh criticism as encouragement. I know many people here may tell you to ignore them or whatever, but use their critique as a stepping stone and strive to impress them on their next visit. Granted they may never return, but have the mindset of catering to your worst customers and you’ll be a huge success.

    Much love.

    Reply
  17. Shelly

    I am so proud of you and happy for you!!! I am not surprised this is a success because you are that girl. That girl that gives 2000% to everything she touches…business, marriage, motherhood, daughter,, fans, friends.

    I loved reading this. I know Amy would LOVE to eat here. Maybe we can one day!

    Reply

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