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4 business and life lessons from restaurant operator Sofi Sui on surviving a pandemic

How Sofi Sui managed to retain all her staff even when the business dropped by 90 per cent.

When the Circuit Breaker was implemented on April 7, 2020, restaurant owner Sofi Sui was worried, not for her businesses, but for the staff working for her. “My first priority was to preserve my entire team’s job and livelihoods. We had to innovate and transform to survive and make sure the business could go on,” shares Sui.

The owner of Pasta Brava, Sofi Cafe Pizza and Real Keto Italian shares four business and life lessons that kept her and the staff afloat during this period.

Innovate quickly.
“The pandemic motivated me to create new ideas fast. On the second day of the Circuit Breaker period, we started creating vacuum-packed products for our top sellers, pasta sauces, pastas as well as desserts for deliveries and takeaways during the lockdown. This was a first for us, and the response was surprisingly overwhelming. Many regular guests ordered weekly to support and kept encouraging us. We also created tasty, fresh and freezable Italian keto meals and sold them at discounted prices to move sales. We marketed our products online using social media which proved effective.”

Leaders need to be brave.
“Never succumb to fear and panic and don’t dwell on the negative news. First, we had to keep our team’s spirit positive and motivated, which was difficult as the outlook was gloomy with no end of the pandemic in sight. I had to put on a very brave Mulan spirit daily when reporting to work and never showed any signs of distress in adversity, convincing our team and customers that we still had the ability to deliver our food with no compromise in quality and flavour. Focus on the tasks at hand and reinforce your strengths. Being honest, this was the biggest challenge I had ever faced in the many years operating my businesses, but we have emerged stronger together with my loyal team.”

(Related: Leadership during a crisis – Wee Teng Wen on pivoting an F&B and hospitality business)

Sofi Sui at home. ST Photos: Ariffin Jamar, Mark Cheong.

Sofi Sui at home. ST Photo: Ariffin Jamar, Mark Cheong.

Always take care of your people first.
“Our team members have been with us for many years and we have retained all of them even when our sales dropped by 90 per cent. They are very grateful and I am happy to keep them with me through thick and thin. It doesn’t matter if they are local or foreign employees; we are a family and we go through this together. I also trained the team to be adept in multiple tasks, so that they can work in both the kitchen and the front of the house. Half the team had to stay home due to safety reasons and we had to rotate them. Fortunately, they are versatile enough to be deployed where required. This enabled us to pull through even with the reduction in manpower.”

Never compromise on the product.
“The only way to survive is to have a good honest product and offer customer satisfaction. It’s the law of nature. The strongest will survive. Many F&B places have closed and even more are closing. This will force owners to get creative and move with the market trends and adapt to the ever changing likes of customers.”

(Related: Jaelle Ang on how co-working spaces may emerge stronger post-Covid-19)