Chef: Joe Chi
Store: Main & Vine
City: Gig Harbor, Washington
Average Weekly Sales: $15,000
CEO, The Kroger Co., Rodney McMullen, left, and Joe Chi at Main & Vine’s Gig Harbor opening, February, 2016
About my store
We opened Main & Vine February of 2016. Compared to King Soopers, where my parents have a store, it’s a pretty laid-back environment since it’s more focused on natural foods with allergen-free products. We sell dumplings and yakisoba inline connected to the deli, but we make sushi in the back and bring it out to a 12-foot case.
My hospitality and food background
I actually have a psychology degree, but I managed a Holiday Inn Express while I was in college. I was their night auditor for two years while I was in school, then they promoted me when I graduated. Most recently, I worked for a year for my parents at their King Soopers sushi bar.
What it was like selling dumplings for the first time
It’s definitely harder work because the dumplings are handmade, and with the dough, it’s a lot more work than I would ever do at a regular kiosk. I attended a three-day personal training session at JFE. It was new for JFE, too, so we picked each other’s’ brains to fine tune the dumpling recipe and the process. When I was working in my parents’ Colorado store before moving to Washington to open Main & Vine, I’d come home from the kiosk and experiment at home a lot to get the dumplings where they’re at now. I’m very happy with what we’ve come up with.
The difference between Coloradans and Washingtonians
There seem to be a lot more people with allergies in Washington, and a lot more vegans out here. At a regular kiosk, we made maybe four or five veggie rolls a day; here I make closer to 16 to 20. When you add in the Summer Rolls, which are vegan, there are almost 30 rolls in the case for vegans.
One unusual challenge running my business
I have a two-year-old son. It’s pretty tough trying to juggle operating the kiosk with raising him. When I first opened the store, I was working an 80-hour week. It’s a lot better now, though.
My experience with promotions like $5 Sushi
My $5 Sushi day is Tuesday. We have to make about 420 rolls versus our normal 200. I was surprised to find out here that my upper-income customers aren’t always about buying expensive stuff. Tuesday’s a slow day here, but even when parts of the store are empty, a lot of people are coming in just for sushi. I do maybe $1,400 on a regular day, but on a Tuesday I sell about $2,200. So even when I don’t have a great net profit, it’s still a good advertisement. It’s a good day to get our name out and get people coming into the store.
What it was like working with JFE on an opening
They gave me great guidance, when we opened Main & Vine, about how many people I needed. Even though I was skeptical at first, the JFE team said, “Look, this is the level of manning you’ll need to produce X number of rolls”, and their formula was right. So my guidance would be: get as much help as you can to get a large kiosk started properly.
One difference between my last leadership job and this one
I have my routine here now, so managing a hotel was more mentally stressful, but the sushi kiosk and hot food are definitely more physically exhausting. The hotel was all scheduling and strategizing and ensuring it stayed at a certain occupancy level, for example. Here the mental stress is manageable. It’s more like asking, “How am I going to keep customers coming back?”
My proudest accomplishment
With just my wife, father-in-law and me, it’s harder for us making the dumplings and frying out yakisoba, too. So I have to hire three extra people to keep that part going since there’s only one of me. Employees are also hard to find out here because there’s a toll bridge to get to Gig Harbor. I end up having to either pay them more money, or I have to get a less experienced kid. So because I’ve had some staff turnover, too, efficiently running the store and keeping my revenue at a pretty steady average have been great achievements for me.