A career in accounting wasn’t right for William Liu so he built a restaurant chain instead. With restaurants Sono and Nagomi in Brisbane’s CBD worth around $8 million, the 28-year-old is now on the lookout for more.
WILLIAM Liu (pictured) bought a financially unstable Japanese restaurant aged 22, after initially pursuing a career in accounting.
“I studied accounting after school and during my first year discovered that it wasn’t going to be my life career – it wasn’t my dream or passion. I’d always wanted to run my own business so I decided to go out do something on my own after I completed my degree,” says Liu.
“I had a very limited budget and at the time, Sono Restaurant in the city wasn’t making much profit – I thought it had potential and because it wasn’t doing very well, the previous owner sold it to me at a low price that was within my budget.
“I’ve always liked the Japanese restaurant industry and in my opinion, it’s best to avoid buying restaurants that are doing exceptionally well to begin with because then the future selling price will be too high.”
He acknowledges that it was a big job to take on, but accounting had taught him about mitigating risk – and how to spot a deal.
“When I bought the restaurant, I had limited knowledge and an unrealistic view of how difficult it was going to be. I was 22-years-old, confident and thought I could do anything,” says Liu.
“After I graduated from my accounting studies, I was lucky enough to be employed straight away before I went into the direction of the restaurant business. And just the other day my old boss actually walked into the restaurant to dine and was very surprised to see what I’m doing now. There wouldn’t normally be a link between studying accountancy and becoming a restaurateur but there we were.
“Knowing then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have purchased it because there were some big problems at the start and it was extremely hard work. Running Japanese restaurants can be problematic because you need to employ authentic Japanese chefs, which is quite often a challenge.
“And because I was young and inexperienced and the chefs were all around my father’s age, no one wanted to listen to me. It took a lot of convincing and negotiating before I could sustain a harmonious relationship with them.”
His restaurant philosophy is equal part consistency and creativity.
“We started our Portside Restaurant off with a very traditional Japanese menu that we soon changed to a more modern menu, but in doing so, we noticed a drop in our customers because everything is market driven,” says Liu.
“We noticed the decline in customers and immediately changed back to the traditional menu – our chefs are Japanese and prefer to stick with what they know anyway and they’re exceptional at it.
“So our philosophy is consistency and creativity – we’re consistent in every aspect of what we do, but we also try and introduce new dishes to maintain interest with our regular customers. It’s a fine balance.”
He says the success of his business relies on a number of key factors. The obvious being how to cook and serve authentic Japanese food. Then there’s successfully coordinating professional chefs and building a team of staff that works efficiently together.
“There are a lot more experienced restaurateurs out there, but if I had any advice to give to young restaurateurs, it’s that you need to be realistic, patient and happy to try new things,” he says.
“It’s important to have an understanding of your customers as their requirements and needs must be integrated into the business management process. I always look at things from our customer’s perspective – some of the most successful restaurateurs know how to pick the best chefs and manage them to produce the best quality.”
The young father is busier than ever, but juggling that work-life balance is what drives him.
“My baby was born right in the middle of the planning of our third restaurant, so it’s been a challenge, but I have a great wife who supports me a lot. I normally look after the baby in the morning and then head to work after that,” says Liu.
“At the moment, I’m focusing on stabilising my current businesses, but I’m thinking about opening another teppanyaki restaurant in future as I’ve found there to be a high demand for this in Brisbane. I’m also interested in developing our Nagomi restaurant and expanding it away from just the take away aspect.
“Hopefully by the time I’m 30 I’ll have a successful, stable restaurant chain and I can start thinking about branching into other areas of interest.”
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