Mei Mei: A Local Restaurant Making A Difference Plate by Plate
By Tom Adams
Family-focused, ethical, and fun are descriptors that come to mind when we think of Mei Mei, a Chinese-American style restaurant just a stones throw from Boston University campus. Starting as a food truck in 2012 and expanding into a full-fledged, critically acclaimed restaurant, co-founders Irene and Mei lead us through their entrepreneurial journey when they came to speak with BUMKC this Tuesday.
Restaurants Run Deep: A food-based Family History
Mei Mei is a sibling-run business. Both Irene and Mei and their brother, Andy, are all responsible for running the daily operations of Mei Mei. After all, Mei Mei means “little sister” in Chinese. However, their family isn’t new to the business. The restaurant industry is in their blood, with their grandparents owning and running successful Chinese restaurants in New York City and White Plains.
The idea for Mei Mei was sparked through the connection drawn between their family identity and food. The value they placed on this lineage inspired Mei Mei to focus on the food that brought them all together - Chinese food. In addition to making food that aligns with their upbringing, the three siblings decided to infuse “food justice” into their food, meaning that they operate their business with a deep awareness of food insecurity and economic pressures that lead to inability for people to access food. The siblings are passionate about social movements within the food industry, and it shows in the way they source, cook, and otherwise run the business.
From A Standalone Food Truck To A Bustling, Boston-Based Restaurant
Mei Mei exploded in popularity since their food truck days and eventually moved their business into an established storefront in 2013, just a year after launching their food truck in 2012. The reason for this incredible growth is due to many factors, but both Mei and and Irene pointed towards Mei Mei not only serving delicious and inventive food, but also implementing Open Book Management as a way to keep their employees enthusiastic and excited to be working with them.
In their Open Book Management policy, Mei Mei shares company financials with all employees of the business, and also provide training so that they all employees can interpret and understand the data. They do this every month to ensure that all company operations are 100% transparent to all constituents of the business. In explaining why they do this, Irene stated “Staff are better at the game if they know the score.” In addition to transparency in regard to their financials, Mei Mei provides culinary training to make sure the food that they prepare is top notch. These programs help align the interest of the business with the interest of the employees.
It’s important to note that most successful restaurants run on a pretty low-profit cost structure, where they make about $10 for every sale of $100 (a 10% profit margin). This makes it costly (if not impossible) for most restaurants to run these types of employee empowerment programs. However, by still providing these types of employee benefits, it shows how Mei Mei truly “walks the walk” when it comes to acting on the social issues integral to their business.
Food You Can Feel Good About
In addition to providing their employees with a stellar experience, Mei Mei takes food sourcing and sustainable waste management seriously. They pride themselves on being able to track exactly where all their ingredients come from, since shopping and buying local helps support families in the community directly as opposed to shopping large, corporate supermarket locations. In addition, they only source their meats from animals who have lived at least part of their lives outdoors. In terms of waste management, they make sure to compost and recycle as much as they can. When you eat at Mei Mei, you can be assured that every plate you order supports ethical treatment of animals and sustainable sourcing.
In summing up how Mei Mei differentiates itself from other hospitality businesses, Irene explained 3 key values that they follow in all aspects of their company. These are:
Delivering food that makes people feel good.
Educating guests about food in a way that improves their experience.
Influencing guest food choices for the better.
Through this, they’re able to turn their customers into true, repeat fans of their restaurant. To learn more about Mei Mei’s story, visit their website here.
Sound interesting? Join the Mei Mei team!
Check out Mei Mei Jobs to see the job and internship positions they have open! Mei Mei is known for being flexible to accommodate the schedule of students. Make sure to give Mei Mei a follow on social media by following their handle @MeiMeiBoston!
If you have any questions, contact Mei Mei at firstname.lastname@example.org!