You asked, they answered: Christine Ha on opening and operating a restaurant

Who better to answer your questions about starting and running a small business than successful business owners who’ve done it themselves?

This month, we’re partnering with business owners featured in Grit & Greenlights: Small Business Stories with Matthew McConaughey to answer questions from our social media audience — covering getting started, building a team, expanding locations, and more.

Here, Christine Ha — 2012 MasterChef winner, co-owner of the celebrated Houston restaurants @theblindgoathtx and @xinchaohtx, and recent James Beard nominee — shares what she’s learned about opening and operating a restaurant.

Love, love Xin Chao!! What’s your #1 tip for someone who wants to start a restaurant but doesn’t have experience?

Recruit a good management team to support you and your vision. Hire people who are better than you to get things done, like putting processes in place, managing staff, etc. Also, it really comes down to trial by fire, and you will learn as you go.

How do you go about hiring employees for your busy season? Especially when dependability is so key in the service industry?

Recruiting should not just happen when you’re busy. It should be happening all the time. You never know when someone will leave or have to take time off—everyone has a life outside of work and it can often be unpredictable. You have to try to stay ahead and constantly be recruiting. This involves asking staff to refer people they know as they will best understand who will fit into your company’s culture. It includes putting out job ads and a word out to other people in the industry.

Is there any secret you’ve learned to reduce turnover in your restaurants?

There is no secret, but something I’ve noticed is that it helps to set a clear company culture, especially one that includes transparency.

What is the key to thriving in a saturated business domain like restaurants? And, what is your secret ingredient to becoming so popular with two restaurants with different concepts but similar cuisine?

I don’t have a specific secret or key, unfortunately, but I think it’s important to have a strong moral compass and a deep understanding of your brand and vision. In all the decisions I make for the restaurants, I ask myself first, How would I receive this as the guest or a team member?

I always try to see the potential perspective of another person who will be affected by my decisions, and this helps inform me in my decision-making process.

Has anything changed in how you manage your teams now that you have two different restaurants? And how do you split your time and energy between different locations?

I don’t have children, but I would imagine it’s similar. Now you have two kids to juggle, so you try to pool resources and streamline things as much as you can, whether it be resources, vendors, processes, etc. But you also have to see which one needs more attention at the moment. At the same time, you cannot neglect the other as it will show pretty quickly in the team’s morale or quality of output.

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