New restaurant owners have recipe for success
By Sue Tiffin
Published Jan. 29, 2019
Felicia Dai and Kam Li are in business.
The couple have owned Win Yeung Chinese restaurant since June of last year, and though they call themselves “fresh hands” in managing a restaurant, they also acknowledge that seven months into the venture, they are feeling confident and business is going well.
Dai and Li met about 12 years ago, when they were students in Guangzhou, China. “We went to the same school, a different class, beside each other,” said Dai. “He was Class 3, and I was Class 4.”
Li, who Dai said is ambitious and hard-working, came first to Canada to “see a different world,”as the couple describes it. In China he was doing well working in a restaurant, but he wasn’t getting as much training and experience as he wanted.
“He wasn’t really learning things from the chef, but here, the culture’s more fair to everyone,” said Dai. “If he wants to learn, the people want to teach you. That’s maybe what [made] him want to go to Toronto, to see a new world.”
Dai followed from China to Canada after she graduated from college.
“And then everything started over,” she said. “It’s hard but it’s interesting, because you want to see something more. You want to do something more.”
After studying at Seneca College, Dai became an early childhood educator in Scarborough, while Li pursued his dream in a restaurant, where he trained and worked his way up to a chef position within 10 years.
When Alvy Tsang, then the manager of Win Yeung Chinese restaurant, and Alex Cao, chef, were ready to retire after about 14 years at the restaurant, they turned to the young couple, who were family friends, to take the business on.
“We were just like, how about we try it?” said Dai. “We didn’t really have plans for it. It’s a challenge – we really took a risk. We were not really knowing what would happen. We were just like, OK, we’ll come in and try.”
Though Dai said it felt like the couple was gambling, she also said she wanted to support Li in his dream.
“He already liked doing the restaurant for this many years,” she said. “I thought, if he wanted to try it, how about I support him. I really liked the job I did before, but if he wanted to do something for us, for our lives, it’s better ... [to be] a better man or [make] a better life for us. And how about we do it together?”
Tsang and Cao worked with Li and Dai, going over the business and sharing their knowledge of the restaurant with their successors.
“The old owners gave us the same recipe of the sauce,” said Dai. “They taught him how to do it, taught him a little bit [of the] secrets in the recipes, [so we can] keep the quality, and maybe the taste will be very similar. I can’t say the exact same. Even though the same chef, the same recipe, you cannot control exactly the same.”
When it was time, Tsang and Cao stepped back and Li and Dai stepped in.
“They trained us about two or three months, they worked with us together and then let go, and we took it over,” said Dai.” Really took it over, and tried by ourselves.”
Initially, making the restaurant run smoothly was challenging.
“The first day they were not here, it was really a lot of people, suddenly,” Dai said, laughing. “Like, sometimes Saturday there aren’t that many people in the mornings coming, but that day, I don’t understand why, that day, Saturday, people were all over, and then we were like, what am I doing now? It was quite messy I think. I kept saying, ‘sorry, sorry, for keeping you waiting for so long.’ I kept saying sorry.”
Eventually, Li and Dai figured out how to work together to help each other out.
“And now I can do it,” said Dai, and then, laughing: “But of course they still need to wait a bit, I do not have 10 hands, I only have two hands.”
The couple live locally with their two-year-old, Ashley, who is settling in to a schedule at daycare where she has a best friend.
“That one is a bubble gum, always sticking to me,” Dai said lovingly.
Dai said she can feel lonely living so far from friends and family, and the schedule at the restaurant hasn’t given her much opportunity for friendships, so she joked she is extra chatty with customers who come in and are friendly.
“If you like to talk to me, I’m really willing to talk as well,” she said.
Dai told the Echo numerous times that she and Li are appreciating the kindness of Haliburton residents.
“So from China to Toronto it’s a big change, and from Toronto to here as well it’s a big change, but for me, it’s fine,”she said. “It’s OK. The people are good. The people are nice. The place is nice, even if it’s really cold.”
Win Yeung Chinese Restaurant at 37 Maple Avenue in Haliburton is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday. Visit www.winyeung.com for menu information.