How a promise to a loved one became a celebration of food and of life

It was when One Tea Lounge owner David Yip faced the most difficult time in his life – his fiancé, Daisy, was diagnosed with cancer – that he launched his new business. “Prior to her passing away, I made her a promise,” he reveals. “It was to open One Tea Lounge as a place for guests to celebrate food and life with their friends and loved ones. Much of the interior for the York Street venue is a tribute in memory of Daisy.”

A year later, David fulfilled his promise to Daisy, opening the restaurant on York Street, a popular drinking strip. “It was Daisy’s wish to open the restaurant there,” David says. “We’d been there often ourselves, and recognised the potential of the CBD at night.”

David’s journey had not begun with the restaurant, however. His signature dish, the Ramen Burger, had become a sensation at the Sydney Night Noodle Markets. “It’s a unique fusion of East and West,” David explains. “It actually originated in New York – I was the first to bring it to Sydney.”

Reflecting on the Noodle Market, David realised that market trading wasn’t really his specialty. This inspired him to look for restaurant premises so that he could bring not only the Ramen Burger, but an entire menu packed with innovative cuisine to his customers. “The Ramen Burger is the hero,” he says. “But I needed a much bigger range in order for the restaurant to prosper.”

Green tea is the unique selling point and the focus around which the menu is based. “My family have a Japanese Green Tea shop, and with this background it seemed natural to explore the idea of fusing green tea with other foods,” David says. “Our menu was developed to drive a point of differentiation with almost 80% of our menu incorporating some form or element of Japanese Green tea.”

Innovation, continual improvement, and well-trained staff are key elements to the successful growth of the One Tea Lounge. However, David admits that recruiting and retaining good staff is a constant challenge. “There is no magic formula to great service. I have a simple saying – treat others how you want to be treated. I tell my staff, if you were a paying customer, then ask yourself what type of service would you like and then strive to perform to that expectation for your guests.”

Social media has been critical to the success of One Tea Lounge. Along with a unique environment – such as the use of dry ice and fire – the menu items are all presented with photography in mind. “In today’s smartphone age, the eating experience is about the visuals as well as the taste,” David explains. “People take pictures and videos that they share with their friends – naturally that’s the best word of mouth advertising for a business like this.”

So what advice does David have for anyone who’s thinking of taking a unique idea to market?

  • Perception is reality – it’s important to listen to the opinions of others, especially those with experience in your industry. “In this business, no-one should believe they have it right all the time,” David explains. “The customer will tell you what they think, and you need to listen to them so that you can continually improve.”
  • Believe in yourself – a positive attitude is essential. “Losing my fiancé was devastating,” David says. “But I summoned the courage to move forward, and make One Tea Lounge a success in her memory, and for my future. There will be days or weeks when business is poor, or things just aren’t working – don’t give up. Be positive, and make things work. Believe in yourself and give yourself a chance – otherwise who else will?”
  • Project management – if you can, bring an experienced project manager on board to ensure the venture remains on track. “Focus on your strengths,” David advises, “and then bring someone in who can help with your weaknesses and can deploy resources in the best way.”

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