Mobile Blogging!


While I am by no means far from my computer right now I thought it would be really cool to test out the new feature that I can take advantage of on my brand-new iPhone 4S. Not only can I blog from my iPhone no matter where I am, I can blog using voice dictation with the iPhone’s Siri feature.

No, this isn’t going to be a bastion for would-be Tweets that exceed 140 characters. But maybe it will help me blog a bit more in the here and now!


Blog, how I have missed you

It would be a shame to let this thing go.

So here’s to new life.  Yes, even in law school – which has been a lot of work.  But nowhere near as traumatic as others may have led me to fear.

I just need a new tag line.  Please help.  It has to reflect my domain name, The Sweet, The Sour, and I want it to reflect both the “chop suey” sentiment and my budding life outside of Red Moon here in Minneapolis.  Hmm…


Are we crippled by our own coupons?

Everyone loves a great deal. Some people are hard-wired to seek those deals automatically and without fail each time he makes a purchase.  In the restaurant and retail business, “couponers” are the people we speak of.  And let me say this: we love their loyalty and business just as much as the next customer’s.

This post is not about couponers.  It’s more about the greater coupon culture.  The dependence on the deal.  And the subsequent pegging of one’s brand.  If a restaurant’s coupons are so ubiquitous they pop in view like pennies on the pavement — what does that say about the establishment’s brand?

I started thinking about this after reading a restaurant blog about new restaurant startups I follow and an article about weaning customers off the deep discounts in the Nation’s Restaurant News.

Recently, we've even started offering more lucrative discounts to our most loyal fans via email. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of these deals.

I sometimes fear R.M.C.C. has a coupon-dolling dependency.  And I’d hate for us to have a reputation as a discount dining option — or just plain cheap.  For years, we issued 15% coupons to everyone who ordered takeout, rewarding them for some return business.  A majority of regular customers has become so used to the perk, a few of them get miffed if their coupon isn’t in the bag.  At times more disconcerting, some expect a flat 15% off each time they visit — coupon in hand or not.

Feelings on this phenomena are truly mixed.  By one account, we’ve scored a major win: each of those customers is not only a loyal follower of Red Moon, but also a frequent visitor.  Our doors are still open because of their collective impact on our cash flow.  That’s not lost on us.

Conversely, so many customers are in this pool of discount-only buyers that their effect on our bottom-line is surely not negligible.  Let’s come to Jesus for a second: anyone who didn’t know this already, let me break the news — restaurant profit margins are either absent entirely or quite slim, certainly less than 10 percent and many closer to the three to five percent range.  Need proof?  Just check out this roster of publicly traded big boys — if they can’t muster much more than that, how is this little guy doing much better?

Without much more than a gut-feeling and a little rudimentary number-crunching, I have decided to re-think how we approach coupons.

If anyone has any ideas of what works for them or better — as a consumer what you plainly feel about coupons and what that means to your loyalty for certain establishments, I’d love to know.

I hope to follow-up with a meatier blog about what our strategy going forward will be — how we will keep building on our tremendous group of loyal customers, luring in new customers and providing value on top of high quality, sought-after delicious food.


A few months, many lessons

I haven’t been writing lately because I didn’t quite know how much to divulge about what was going on behind the scenes.  And quite frankly, that’s all well and good.  After all, this blog is meant to illuminate, not stew, fester or track the divergent inner-workings of a lone mind.

That said, I do have some bullet points to share about things that have happened in the last few months.

In short, I veered from the law school path and took a good faith interest in pursuing restaurant-related business opportunities with my dad.  I took great pleasure in the idea of creating new things, building upon decades of his hard work and, in a sense, coming full circle with something that’s been a part of me for all of my life.  There were great ideas tempered by realistic financial limitations but fueled by optimism and passion nonetheless.  We crafted business plans and weathered a torrent of naysayers but found solace and greater hope from longtime supporters.  We got knee deep in it all.

Loved ones backed us up in selfless ways.

Then the whole thing fell apart.  And like any disorienting jolt — I found myself numb and motionless with nothing to do but plunge into deep thought.

I emerged with clarity and quite frankly — relief.  Becoming a restaurateur wasn’t the right thing to do.

Thankfully, I found myself living just a few blocks from the University of St. Thomas School of Law, an institution with a rising star here in the Twin Cities.  I applied and just accepted a tremendous offer to attend.  In the meantime, a fantastic mentor appeared to me and helped me sort out some of the reservations I had about a legal education.  Call it more due diligence.  I am eager to begin this path.  I will write more about my excitement about law school in another post!

Now, some of the random bullets from this experience and hopefully many new posts will follow.  Because now, there is nothing to hide.

  • The Credit Crisis is [Still] Real: Banks are really hard to deal with.  If you lack deep pockets and a sterling record TODAY, there’s little hope in getting financial institutions to take a moderate risk on you, Mr. Small Bussinessperson.  We know.  We approached about seven.
  • Due Diligence is King: You know that cliche about skeletons in one’s closet?  Whether it’s purchasing a piece of commercial real estate or musings about changing course in life: emotion, passion and desire should never occupy the top-wrung on a decision-making ladder.  NOTHING beats exhaustive, objective fact-finding.  You might just find that someone is about to saddle you with a couple hundred thousand dollars in judgments and liens!
  • "Never Ignore Stop Signs"

    Never ignore a stop sign. In my case, the figurative kind. No one was hurt, thankfully... and for the record, I was not at fault in this accident that totaled the vehicle you see here.

    Belief in Signs is Okay: If, on the way to a business meeting to discuss a new project, a red Mini Cooper with white accents (making it resemble a stop sign) pulls in front of you causing you to T-bone said little car at no fault of your own — it is okay to conclude that some greater power is trying to tell you “STOP!”

  • Faith Yields Sanity: Amid the tumult, having faith in a higher power that good will come from a course you don’t seem to have much control in shaping is about all you can do to feel good.  And as things calm, that faith is typically rewarded.
  • If It’s Pie you Desire, Get a Piece of This: The credit card processing fee business is the biggest racket I have ever seen in person.  Talk about getting something for nothing.  Every time you use a credit card at a small, family-owned business, just know that mom or pop behind the sales counter is crying a little inside with each swipe of a magnetic strip.  Once the vultures caught wind of a possible new business, the calls came pouring in.  Stop calling now.
  • Community Stakeholders Rock: Despite the economy, some communities still have amazing cheerleaders working damn hard to lure new business and prop up the existing ones.  These people do thankless work.  If you think you’ve benefited from someone like this, I urge you to seek out that person and give her some thanks.  Though we won’t be part of one community, we felt welcome the first instance we showed interest.
  • Nickels and Dimes Add Up: Soon I will be a lawyer-in-training.  But that won’t stop me from saying this: good grief, my heavens!  I have no problem paying for good judgment.  I’m just glad I now know personally what it costs to engage a judicious mind on the phone for  a matter of seconds.  I’ll be more judicious in making those calls in the future.

The Silence Ends

Dear faithful readers,

After a bit more than a month of quiet on this blog, the silence ends soon.  Thank you for sticking with me as I weathered an interesting period of my life.

I’ve emerged with much clarity and a dedicated resolve for the days, weeks, months and even years ahead.

I look forward to sharing my plans with you — as they include some great new happenings at Red Moon.  We’ll call it “Reinventing Red Moon 2010.”  There’s much more than that, too.


Enough with the funny business, Yelp!

I am heartened to see the Internet buzz created this week when news sufraced that Yelp is now embroiled in a lawsuit alleging Yelp is involved in an extortion plot.  Now, whether there is actual extortion going on is beyond my experience — and I wonder if there really was extortion in any circumstance.  Perhaps just really, really inept salesmanship.

Screen Grab of Red Moon's Yelp page

Star-rating? Gone. Two reviews? Gone. Why are Yelp.com's legit-police all over Red Moon? It's unfair and uncalled for!

Bottom line though — the PR nightmare for Yelp is beginning.  If authenticity is what we crave in this hyper-connected time — the lack of authenticity Yelp shows its community will be its downfall.

I get the reasons Yelp might want to pull or flag a review here or there — the whole Yelp for Yelpers’ sake argument… that you ought to be a regular on the site to have your voice heard.  That way, you can trust that the reviews you read are also from regulars.

But in a market like the Twin Cities and their suburbs… how the hell does that make business sense?  Take Red Moon Chinese Cafe, for instance.  In the last year or so, more than a half dozen reviews have been written about my restaurant.  All glowing, positive and supportive.  Each one has been removed by Yelp.  Why?

Beyond my anger as a small business operator — let’s consider the business sense of this move… even if each of them came from fringe Yelp users who aren’t really apart of the “community.”

Yelp is huge in Chicago, San Francisco, Manhattan.  So huge, Google was ready to pony-up mad cash to buy Yelp.  But look to the Minneapolis market to see whether this company has legs… and I cannot find the evidence that Yelp has staying power outside of Minneapolis proper.

If you can’t land the users, Yelp… you have already hit your peak.  And if you want new users, you need to be able to show them there is value in the site.  So when someone goes looking for Chinese food in Eden Prairie, MN and restaurants continually pop up with one or no reviews, people will continue to get the idea that your site is worthless.  Meantime, CitySearch or other Web sites have 10+ reviews for similar listings.

If I were Yelp — I would completely trash the system currently in place that removes reviews seemingly haphazardly.  I would restore every review ever written.  You know why?  Because authenticity is so easy to see for all of us looking to the Web for answers to our everyday questions.  Bogus reviews will appear bogus.  Overly-hateful reviews will appear as such.  Cruel words will be ignored.  The truth will shine through.  We do not need your corporate-wannabe-minders doing our jobs for us, Yelp!  So stop the funny business!


My dad’s a man — officially

Tat, Alex and Justin Kwan atop the Great Wall of China at Mu Tian Yu, February 2010.

I guess there’s some saying that a Chinaman isn’t really a man until he’s stood atop the Great Wall.  For those interested in my dad’s exploits… here is proof that Tin Tat is really a man!  Haha.  Just the latest among dispatches from China — a photo of Tat, Alex and Justin Kwan on the Great Wall of China @ Mu Tian Yu.

I heard all about my dad and brothers’ trip just now via Skype.  Justin and Alex connected to Skype via wi-fi at a coffee shop (where they garnish drinks with really nice whipped cream, odd for off-the-beaten-path China?) in what used to be my dad’s mud-hut-and-rice-paddy village on Three Stoves Island.  It’s interesting to hear about the growth of China in the news — but to realize it through things like a casual Skype call is really quite amazing.


Gong Hay Fat Choy – a dispatch from China

Happy Lunar New Year!  Today we ring in the Year of the Tiger.  We don’t really have much going on at the restaurant in honor of the holiday, however, I did buy a couple of lobsters for our employees to enjoy after work tonight.

Tin Tat Kwan cooks Chinese in China.

As for the “dispatch from China,” I am referring to a few photos from my brother Justin — and not actually a posting from China.  My dad is currently there with my brother Alex, too — and the three of them are spending Chinese New Year together in my dad’s hometown.  I’m doing what an oldest son does best — keeping things in line back here at the restaurant.  Normally, I’d be really jealous.  But I’m not this time — as my dad deserved a break and I volunteered to watch the restaurant.  It just so happened that Justin lives in China and Alex has the time (and apparently the money?) to travel for a couple weeks.

Here’s the funny part of the story:  Who goes all the way to China to cook his own Chinese food?  That would be my dad.

“Its funny, dad is so picky about eating,” wrote my brother Justin in an email.  ”I thought it was just about pizza and Mexican but he is fussy. It’s understandable though, he is a damn good chef.”

Justin flew in his own personal chef for some Chinese New Year entertainment.

Apparently the week my dad spent in Beijing didn’t do too much to satisfy his palate.  Justin reports that they went to a market one day and came back to Justin’s flat to cook, among other things, Cantonese-American “Shrimp in Lobster Sauce.”  Haha.

“He liked Peking duck and the mao tai white wine but wasn’t impressed by the kao yu or Sichuan-style bbq fish, said it was a failure!” Justin wrote.  ”So last night dad cooked! We went to the restaurant market and got a bunch of stuff for shrimp and lobster sauce (heaven), tomato chicken wings, choi sum, fish, black mushroom and bean curd, and lotus root. It was amazing and of course impressive. I guess it’s the best Chinese food I’ve had in China, haha.”


The Other Side of the Story

Yes, each story has its largely-untold face.  Even this short story will no doubt have a set of truths that dip past the willingness of my fingers to move along the keyboard.

This post is about my mom.  She’s a really nice and generous lady who has become a friend to me more and more over the years.  I go to her for advice and comfort, as any child should.  Sadly, she and my dad are no longer married.  By the same token, happily, she and my father are no longer married.  Thankfully, they are still friends and our family — though not picture-perfect — is still a cohesive family (as cohesive families tend to go these days).

Often times she doesn’t factor into my stories about the restaurant because she left the business when she and my dad separated in 2001.  But she works at Red Moon on Fridays, which is actually fun for all of us.  It’s kind of nice to indulge ourselves in “something for old time’s sake” once in awhile.  I think it shows us that our resilience as individuals permit us to hold on to things that are good… no matter what has transpired between now and then.

So in honor of that spirit, I present to you faithful blog readers grainy photographs of my parents in their early days of being restaurateurs (grainy because I snatched them via BlackBerry from a photo album at my grandma’s house today):

Tin Tat Kwan 1982 at Kwan's

My dad, Tin Tat Kwan, tending to the stock pot at Kwan's Chinese Cuisine in 1982 shortly after he and Jennifer Kwan opened for business.

Kwan's Chinese Cuisine on 54th and Penn Avenue in Minneapolis in 1982 -- Jennifer Kwan pictured.

Jennifer Kwan getting some rice from the smallest rice cooker in Chinese restaurant history. Makes it seem like they were the first people in Minnesota to serve the stuff.

Shortly after opening Kwan's Chinese Cuisine in 1982, my parents discovered they were pregnant. Oh my.


Menu Experiment: Panko and Coconut-Crusted Sole over Coconut-Curried Veggies

We’re experimenting with some new dishes (as in china) and new dishes (the Chinese-ish kind).

Today I went to Ikea near the Mall of America to hunt down some dishes that didn’t look like the standard things you find in typical mom and pop Chinese joints like ours: white, oval, and bordered with some boring Asian pattern.

Bringing a few of them into the restaurant really got my dad and I thinking about what we could make that might be different.

He has been a big fan of the very mild and easily-adapatble sole fish lately.  Last night he prepped some coconut and panko bread crumb filets.  I immediately thought of the chicken and coconut curry I enjoy making when I’m on my own.

So we grabbed a sole filet and fried it (I know, I’m sure there’s another way we could prepare it, but it’s damn good), I took out a can of coconut milk and we picked out a few veggies (peapods, broccoli, peppers, a few carrots and onions), minced some ginger and garlic and threw it all together.

Panko and Coconut-Crusted Sole atop Coconut-Curried Veggies

It’s funny, my dad cooked everything in a different order than I would have.  But I told him how much ginger, coconut milk, curry and sugar to put in the dish.  It’s maybe only the second time we’ve ever truly collaborated on a dish.

The result is pictured — Panko and Coconut-Crusted Sole atop Coconut-Curried Veggies.  We gave the dish to our good friend Andrea Blum who reports that it was excellent.  I only got a quick taste of the sauce to make sure it was good.  Interestingly, I think rather highly of my coconut curry.  But once again, my father proved to me that his innate cooking ability really is all about his “special touch,” as he calls it.  The stuff tasted about 5-times better than anything I’ve ever made.

What a fun night at Red Moon!  You should have seen how excited we were to play around with some food!