TINA LI & YE SHAO
Dainty Sichuan, Melbourne
Though they now run an empire of more than a dozen eateries in two cities, it wasn’t always a given that Tina Li and Ye Shao would become restaurateurs. Li worked at a laundry factory while Shao ran a Chinese-medicine clinic. When they met she was struck by his conscientious treatment of an acupuncture patient – a good sign, she thought, for a future business partner. For Shao, Li’s talent was clear. “One day, I went to Tina’s home for a dinner, her experienced cooking impressed me very much.” She has since translated her kitchen skills beyond dinner for two: the pair currently run 16 restaurants, most of them in Melbourne, and six under the Dainty Sichuan brand that made their names. For the first two-and-a-half years, they didn’t take a single day off. And they still put in the hours. “Most days, we go to sleep 2am to 3am,” Shao says.
While Li is in charge of dish development and training staff, Shao mainly looks after marketing and editing menus. Li often goes to China for research, “then I come back to Melbourne and adjust it to suit the Australian customers”.