Address: 246A Springvale Rd, Springvale VIC 3171 | Phone: (03) 9547 7879
From an interview with Andy that has been edited.
I had just finished the Melbourne Water project, so my brother said, “this is a golden opportunity! We have this whole team available, we should start something.” My parents encouraged us, so I quit my job and started Hoa Tran.
Starting this business was a very steep learning curve for me.
I had zero experience in hospitality, and I had to pick everything up very quickly.
I latched onto the experienced staff, but I also tried to put my own spin on things. The original team’s running style was old school. They’d throw a dish on a table and say, “here you go.” I didn’t want that. As an electrical engineer I want everything to be exact.
I began changing the way that we operate, and the restaurant started evolving. A customer might complain about a dish being too salty or too sweet, so we’d adjust it until we hit the sweet spot.
And we are always changing our menu. If we observe that not many people are ordering a particular dish, we’ll take it off and replace it with something else. It’s the only way to survive in this industry.
At first, my brother was back of house and I was front-of-house.
But I love cooking so, after a year, he trained me as a professional cook.
I love how intense it is in the kitchen. It’s like operating a plane. Everything is exact and you don’t talk nonsense. “One stir-fried rice.” That’s it. Every word leads to an action and, because there are 11 chefs in the kitchen, they really listen to you.
Say someone orders the combination fried noodles: one chef is preparing the noodles, another is preparing the veggies, another starts stir-frying and so on. One command will kick-start a lot of different sections. And that’s just one dish.
We have 100 different dishes that follow a similar process. It requires total concentration and, if you’re thinking of something else, you’re gone. If anything goes wrong, the whole dish goes in the bin. We are striving for perfection.
And, every day, we have a huge group of older Chinese customers who order our marinated duck in black soup. There is something for everybody here.
One of the beauties of Hoa Tran is our location.
We are right next to the market, and all of our produce is fresh. We don’t need a fridge or freezer to store groceries. I call a supplier and say, “give me bokchoy,” or “give me that spinach,” and they will deliver it fresh every morning.
And Australia has the best ingredients; the water is from the mountain, the pork is plentisome and our beef is crazy good. The suppliers will often give us bones for free. You can extract the juice from them, and the flavour is the best.
But if anything goes wrong, the older locals are blunt. Once, a waiter forgot to give chilli with a soup, and an old man went in front of me, pointed and said, “do you know how to run a restaurant?”
“You should close.”
A lot of the locals are really good cooks, so you have to do an exceptional job for them to dine at your restaurant.
You can’t get away with anything.
A lot of people tell me that we are very famous in China.
They hear about us from friends and family who have migrated to Australia, and they will eat here on a visit. We also have patrons who have been coming for 16-17 years.
They will come in with their parents, then they might graduate, bring their boyfriend or girlfriend in, get married and bring their kids. We’re been here long enough that we’re starting to see the second generation.
And my brother and I eat out twice a week, every week. We go to every restaurant across Melbourne to see how they run things, and mentally evaluate the food.
Whenever we see a good or bad thing, it’s a light-bulb moment.
“We have to learn or change that.”
It’s all very slow and gradual but, by the end of it, customers feel that we have refreshed. If you don’t change, you stay in one place.
If we weren’t passionate about what we do, we would have quit a long time ago.
We believe that customers see and feel the care that goes into their meal. You can’t cut corners, because people are discerning, and our dishes represent us.
And, across the board, all of the dishes are refined. We don’t want to have a lot of dishes just for the sake of it. None of them are fillers, and anything that doesn’t sell is dumped. We make no apologies for that.
We buy everything fresh, we’re always refining our menu and we maintain very high standards. That’s our secret.