HOW I MAKE IT WORK...

HER RESTAU­RANT CHAIN, MISSCHU, WENT INTO VOL­UN­TARY AD­MIN­IS­TRA­TION IN 2014. NOW, THE FOR­MER REFUGEE IS RE­BUILD­ING HER REP­U­TA­TION AND RE­VEALS WHAT IT TAKES TO MAKE A COME­BACK

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - as told to Louise Ed­wards Cha Li Boi Yum Cha Bar and Din­ing opens in Syd­ney next month.

Cater­ing queen Nahji Chu on cop­ing with fail­ure.

I’m only 46, but I feel like I’ve had four lives al­ready. I left Laos at the age of five when my fam­ily was kicked out by the com­mu­nist regime. I then spent a few years in refugee camps be­fore com­ing to Aus­tralia. By the time I was 12, the need for me to tell my story was grow­ing strong.

As a young adult I tried to get work in the cre­ative fields – as a jour­nal­ist and as an actor – be­cause I needed to say to Aus­tralia, “I’m Viet­namese, but I’m just like you.” I failed at all the jobs I ap­plied for and ended up open­ing a pho shop.

Misschu was pretty much the first of its kind to do high-end fast food. You could only re­ally or­der on­line from Pizza Hut be­fore we opened our first tuck­shop in 2009. So what went wrong? Some peo­ple say the busi­ness grew too fast. I think it grew ac­cord­ing to de­mand, which was huge, but I didn’t have the in­fra­struc­ture for that growth. I feel Iike I got pe­nalised for be­ing suc­cess­ful, but I can’t blame any­one else for the fail­ure.

I had such a pub­lic fall­ing. I was hu­mil­i­ated. I could have just taken a full-time job and not had the stress, but it’s im­por­tant to me to be a role model to women from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds and to rep­re­sent refugees in Aus­tralia. That’s what kept me go­ing.

I’ve also been able to em­ploy an enor­mous num­ber of peo­ple, so if I took another job, I don’t think I’d sleep at night hav­ing let that go. My busi­ness also gives me an op­por­tu­nity to do char­i­ta­ble work. We work with I-man­i­fest, an NGO which helps dis­ad­van­taged youths get into the cre­ative in­dus­tries. Many of these kids also came to Aus­tralia as refugees and I want to give them a leg up if I can.

Over a year ago an in­vestor came up to me in a car park and said, “How about it? Are you go­ing to take up my of­fer?” He said he couldn’t find a bet­ter per­son to in­vest in now that I’d had a proper fall. But af­ter ev­ery great fall, there has to be

a great up­ris­ing. My new restau­rant is a con­tem­po­rary yum cha hall. I’m tap­ping into my grand­fa­ther’s Chi­nese her­itage, but in a mod­ern con­text. Any­one who is Chi­nese who walks in, will feel proud.

Some peo­ple have said, “Wel­come to the big boys’ club,” be­cause it’s a larger restau­rant. I just say, “Yeah, and guess what? I’m gonna rep­re­sent. Watch what a little Viet­namese wo­man can do!”

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