In this series of interviews, we’d like to introduce you to the young entrepreneurs at River Market who are taking their passion and showcasing what they’re all about.
To start off the series is Justin Cheung, the managing chef of two successful restaurants at River Market — Longtail Thai Kitchen and Freebird Chicken Shack. For its modern take on Southeast Asian street food, Longtail Thai Kitchen recently won the Best Pan-Asian category of the 2018 Vancouver Magazine Restaurant awards. Freebird Chicken Shack serves free-range, hormone-free rotisserie chickens in Asian-style dishes with sides of rice, soups, and salads.
In this interview, Justin shares his thoughts on the emerging trends in the New Westminster food scene and advice to up and coming restauranteurs.
What is the key to your success?
While we don’t shy away from traditional South East Asian cooking, you wouldn’t call us a typical South East Asian restaurant either. We cook what we love to eat, not just what’s popular. We cater to the needs of the younger families moving out to New West, who prefer gluten-free and vegan food without westernizing our dishes or making it too flashy. We want customers to have an authentic experience.
What do you love most about running your business?
It’s been a humbling experience running both Longtail Thai Kitchen and Freebird Chicken Shack. I love getting involved with teaching the staff different aspects of the business. I also love being part of the New West community. It’s nice to source local ingredients while employing traditional cooking techniques.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned while running your company?
The more we grow, the more I realize that I can’t do everything myself. I’ve learnt that it’s very important to be flexible about day to day operations. I hire a lot of young people, and I’ve come to realize that the best way to teach them is to give them more responsibility. Empowering them today to become leaders tomorrow is very rewarding.
What advice would you give to young and aspiring entrepreneurs?
I went to culinary school and learned French and Italian cooking. With Longtail Thai Kitchen, it was nice to return to the flavours of my childhood, and the memory of my mother’s cooking. New West is such an open and diverse community that you don’t need to shy away from being true to your roots. If anything, the danger is in being too generic. New restauranteurs, Showcase who you are!
Longtail Thai Kitchen and Freebird Chicken Shack are open Sunday through Thursday, from 10 am to 6 pm and Friday & Saturday 10 am to 7 pm.