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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Profile: Chefs Jojo & Guan Li: Running a restaurant in hard economic times | business-edge

RUNNING a restaurant and keeping it alive in these hard economic times on Saipan is very challenging, but this couple works successfully together to make ends meet and to continue serving delicious food to their clients in the island.

Jojo & Guan Li Photos by Raquel C. BagnolJojo Li and her husband Chef Guan opened Royal Spring Taste House, a small but pleasant restaurant serving Chinese food on the ground floor of the Millennium Plaza at Coffee Tree Mall in Garapan in June 2009.

“When we opened the restaurant, we were still able to hire a staffer but later, we have to juggle all the work between us because times are really hard. Sometimes, our 17-year-old son helps us out when he is around,” Li told the Variety.

She said most of their customers especially at night are those who work at the massage parlors and bars in Garapan who would come for a bowl of hot soup or noodles, or get a real meal before going home in the early hours of the morning.

“Now it’s so hard because if they don’t have customers at the massage parlors and bars, they won’t get any tips and they won’t spend anything for food,” she said.

Work for the Li couple does not end. Although they open the restaurant at past 1 p.m. every day for a late lunch, they are open all the way until 2 or 2:30 a.m.

The couple buys ingredients on wholesale basis because they can save on trips to the store and on the individual price of commodities.

The couple’s day starts with preparing the basic ingredients, slicing and marinating meat for short orders, and cleaning and preparing the place for diners who come in for a late lunch.

The couple said the last time they were able to go home for a vacation in China was three years ago, before they opened Royal Spring Taste House.

With almost all restaurants in Garapan closing up at 11 p.m., Royal Spring Taste House has an edge because they stay open when most of the night spot workers go home from work.

“Things have really gotten worse these past years, not only restaurants but for other businesses, too but we manage to get by,” she said.

Now, higher bills to pay for rent and utilities, the escalating cost of ingredients, lesser customers, more restaurants and fast foods sprouting around the area, and the low cost of food they offer in their menu to customers, struggling to stay afloat is a real challenge, Li said.

Royal Spring delivers food orders for conferences and gatherings. Just place your orders at least two or three hours ahead of time. They also deliver short orders around Garapan area.

Royal Spring Taste House prices start from the budget- friendly level and up, depending on your order.

Both Jojo and Guan were originally from Guangzhou, China. They left their hometown over 20 years ago to seek greener pastures here. The two met and married here, and both have been witnesses to how the economy of Saipan bloated, flopped and finally torn to shreds but they are still here, trying to survive the everyday challenges of running a restaurant and feeding people delicious food “fit for a king,” as what the restaurant’s name suggests in the Chinese language.

They are also among the thousands of guest workers whose uncertain fate hangs in the balance since federal immigration law was extended to the CNMI.

Royal Spring Taste House accepts only cash for now. For a taste of the restaurant’s specialties, call 233-1668.

A trip back in time | around-the-island

A trip back in time | around-the-island