Episode 138

Gary Hwang ·  Discipline, Culture and Food

“I think the best advice that I could give, honestly, I'm not even just for the restaurant industry budgets for almost anything that you are going to work on or start up on is find a good team and find a good partner because no matter what industry you're in, you're going to need be able to need someone that one that you can trust.”

Gary Hwang is one of the co-founders of Gyuzo Japanese BBQ, a restaurant that specializes in A5 Wagyu. Launched in the middle of Covid 2020 shut down multiple times due to lockdown, survived, and is now thriving as one of the busiest restaurants in Rockville, Maryland.

Gary has a broad range of life experiences from immigrating to the US, dropping out of high school, having served 6 years in the Army with 1 deployment to Afghanistan, and having worked in public accounting.


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Podcast Transcript

Gary Hwang

[00:00:00] Maggie Chui: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast. Today, we have a very special guest. His name is Gary Hwang. Gary is one of the co-founders of Gyuzo Japanese BBQ. A restaurant that specializes in A5 Wagyu. Launched in the middle of COVID 2020 shut down multiple times due to lockdown, survived, and is now thriving as one of the busiest restaurants in Rockville, Maryland.

[00:00:24] Gary, welcome to the show.

[00:00:27] Gary Hwang: Thank you for having me guys. 

[00:00:28] Bryan Pham: That’s a really good mic, by the way. Just going to point that out. 

[00:00:31] Gary Hwang: Oh yeah. This thing. I actually bought it for YouTubing. I didn’t get a chance. So, I stopped it a bit, but this is a pretty expensive mic. 

[00:00:38] Bryan Pham: That’s really good quality, by the way.

[00:00:40] And Gary, so excited to have you on the podcast today. I want to start, also saying thank you so much for helping us host one of the first Asian Hustle Network meetup. We’ve ever had, ever in DC. So thank you so much for doing that for us. It helped us build our friendship. I really appreciate that, man. 

[00:00:56] Gary Hwang: Yeah, no worries. No, really. The honor is mine. I really appreciate you guys trusting me to run that first event in the DMV area. And yeah, I can’t wait for the Vegas event in April. 

[00:01:07] Bryan Pham: Yeah, that’d be super exciting. 

[00:01:08] So Gary, let’s hop into the first question. Tell us about yourself and what was your upbringing like?

[00:01:14] Gary Hwang: Wow. All right, man. All right, let’s get to it. A little bit about myself and my upbringing. So should I do a quick summary and then talk about my upbringing or anything. So a little bit about myself. I’m a Korean American. My family actually moved to the States when I was two years old. They came with, I want to say like less than $2,000 in their pockets.

[00:01:35] It’s kind of like the American dream legit, like the American dream. Like they had no idea what they were doing. They’re just. Pretty much to provide a better life for me cause my sisters weren’t born yet. So it’s just me. So we moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1992. And during that time, my father was working in construction and my mom was working all these odd jobs, either as a restaurant server or working at a factory.

[00:01:59] So they worked their butts off and came back around. I come from a lower-class background. So growing up, I noticed, as I get older, I’m noticing kind of things that are different, as a kid, you don’t really think about these things, but you notice small things like, oh, I didn’t get these Christmas presents, or oh, like how come this person lives in a big house and, we live in an apartment.

[00:02:19] So during my younger years, I kinda got that grasp of the concept of entrepreneurship and finances. So, the reality check for me was during the 2007 and 2008 crisis, my dad lost his job, my mom lost her job. My dad, he’s a contractor, so he had no contracts for construction.

[00:02:40] And we were going through a tough time. A lot of people were. My decision was during that time I dropped off school at the age of 17 and decided to join the army. And during that time, the height of the war was ticking off two, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And that’s something I always wanted to do.

[00:02:57] I don’t know if you guys want me to keep talking or if you guys want to ask the question. 

[00:03:01] Bryan Pham: Keep talking. 

[00:03:02] Gary Hwang: All right. So, I’m at the age of 17, I dropped out, I think I was going into my sophomore year. No, at the end of sophomore year and going to junior, I dropped out.

[00:03:12] And while, my friends were still studying for their SATs and whatnot. I was practicing, throwing grenades, and going through a Bootcamp. And a short while in the military, I was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas for a while and got orders for deployments to Afghanistan in 2011. And I think that was one of my biggest life impacts. It’s just going through the ups and downs in the military.

[00:03:36] And for those of you guys who have served and have deployed, you guys know the pros and cons of being in the service. Being in the military, I built really close bonds with a lot of great, amazing people. As brothers, it’s almost like a brotherhood where you’ll honestly take a bullet for one of your friends.

[00:03:55] And going through that time, it’s really hard to talk about it, but we did lose some close friends. ‘Cause in our job, or in my unit in my job we’re 11 Bravo, which is infantry. And we pretty much have to be in combat. Most of us are in combat when we deploy. And we have dangerous missions sometimes clearing IEDs, patrolling certain towns and areas, and securing routes for other units. It was about 10 months of that. And I think that’s what built me, who I am. Going into the future, with my mindset, if I can get through some things like that, I feel like I can get through almost anything. 

[00:04:35] So shortly after the military, I used my GI bill. I left the military in 2014. I used my GI bill to go to school. I majored in Accounting and then I ended up working in public accounting and that’s a whole ‘nother ball game. And during these years in school, and accounting, that’s pretty much where I started building my side hustles. Whether it’s like detailing cars. Or I was importing and exporting things, selling things on Amazon, Facebook marketplace, anywhere where you can build a hustle. I even built my own t-shirt company called Grumpy Joe’s. I sold those shares in 2018. But one of our videos went viral. It was like 5 million views. It was crazy. It was pretty cool to have a video go viral, but it started on t-shirt company did well for a bit and it died down. Cause we weren’t really focusing too much on that. 

[00:05:28] And eventually one of my friends got me into restaurants and that’s where we are now.

[00:05:34] Bryan Pham: That’s awesome. And I want to say thank you so much for your service. 

[00:05:38] Maggie Chui: Yeah. Thank you. 

[00:05:39] Gary Hwang: Thank you, guys. 

[00:05:41] Bryan Pham: Yeah, I think you started just brushing by really quickly, but that’s a huge impact on anyone’s life to be a part of that experience. So thank you so much for serving our country and doing the things that you do.

[00:05:53] So, deeper into the experience. How do you feel like that time of the military has not only affected your mindset? Because as you mentioned, if you get through this, you can get through anything. But what we noticed with the team meeting, what we noticed between me and Maggie is our military friends tend to be the most focused, the most driven, and most disciplined people that we know.

[00:06:10] And have you taken those skillset life experiences to apply to your mindset of how you want to do things, and how do you approach each problem as you’re trying to learn more about the industry or new hustle, what is that like for you? 

[00:06:25] Gary Hwang: Wow. Let me think about that for a sec.

[00:06:29] So, I guess when I tackle problems I try to see the whole issue. For example, let’s say the restaurant industry, let’s say if the employee’s not doing well, let’s say it’s not performing well. And I look at it over the big picture, I don’t blame my staff. If they’re not doing well, then it’s the leadership’s fault.

[00:06:49] And that’s something in the military I’ve learned. No matter what happens, it’s always leadership because we’re the ones that are leading and making decisions. So at the end of the day, as leaders or, even you guys are leaders, you guys are leaders who have a huge Asian community. At the end of the day, we are responsible for the organization and we have to take full responsibility. 

[00:07:09] So let’s say one of our employees isn’t performing well then let’s look into why, is it the mentality? Is it external factors outside of work or is it because we haven’t provided the critical and necessary training and then, you just dive deep in from there and see all the routes. But that’s how my mindset works and when it comes to solving any issues. 

[00:07:29] Maggie Chui: Yeah, that is a really good way to lead. And I know, there’s a couple of articles about you and it also says the same thing you’ve quoted previously. If a restaurant is successful, it’s not because of you or your partners, but rather the collective work of the entire team.

[00:07:47] And that just pulled at my heartstrings, because I think a lot of the times we look at the leader and, we put a lot of spotlight and emphasis on the leaders, see how they’re running the business, see how they’re running the restaurant, etcetera. But a lot of it has to go towards the team as well, and it’s really a collective work. Like you have to make sure that the team is working really well with the leader. And you emphasized that perfectly.

[00:08:08] I want to know after your time in the military when you had transitioned into accounting work, what were you feeling at that time? And How did you decide? Did you go through this timeline? Do I want to stay in accounting or do I want to do something else? I want to know what was going through your mind at that time after your time in the military. 

[00:08:28] Gary Hwang: Thank you, Maggie. That’s actually a really great question cause I’m sure a lot of veterans do feel the same way when they get out. But for me personally, after I got out of the army in 2014. Honestly, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I left not having a solid plan besides knowing that, I want to pursue higher education with the benefits that I received and is perfectly okay. 

[00:08:51] Now looking back it’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing with your life, especially when you’re in your twenties. At that time, I thought I was old, I was 24, and the reason I felt old was that I’m going to school and everyone else is 18, but I felt a little lost right after the military.

[00:09:08] I did take advantage of the GI bill, went to school, and during school, niched myself into accounting because I like working with numbers. And before I even majored in Accounting, ever since joining the military, I always had to help my family out, or ever since I got my first job, I helped my family out, whether it’s helping pay for the mortgage. Or I bought my mom a car in 2012 like I think that’s one of my biggest accomplishments, just buy my mom a brand new car for her 45th birthday. And just other things. So I always do my own budgeting. So I think that’s what got me to accounting, it’s because I was already doing accounting for my personal life anyway that’s pretty much how I got into it.

[00:09:47] And the reason why I kinda transitioned out of accounting is that I don’t know, I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to do for my entire life. Like it’s a great career path. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a solid stable career path. Can make good money in the long run, but it’s more about I want to have a bigger impact and people’s lives like direct impact, cause what I was doing was pretty much doing financial statements for public accounting firms, doing audits of other big companies and it wasn’t really giving me that satisfaction that it made me feel alive. Going from a combat zone or being physically active until being behind a desk all the time. It really didn’t feel the same. So I think that’s one of the main reasons I got out of it. 

[00:10:30] Maggie Chui: Yeah, that’s helpful to know. I love that you don’t really bash on it as well. Like you understood that you wanted to do something more fulfilling, but at the same time, accounting is a really good position to be in, a really good industry to be in. And I’m sure that it has helped you build your own businesses too, right? Because a lot of CEOs and a lot of founders start businesses. But many of them, to a surprise, actually don’t have a lot of financial background or financial knowledge. So they have to hire people who are actually knowledgeable in that. But for you to have an accounting background and financial background, it probably is extremely helpful for you to start a business. 

[00:11:09] Gary Hwang: Yeah, it definitely helps. Especially in the restaurant industry, when you’re calculating your cost of goods sold, making sure all the numbers make sense for certain things, whether it’s what suppliers you use or what location, etcetera.

[00:11:24] Maggie Chui: Yeah, absolutely. So I do want to transition and talk about your restaurant and I know that you had opened, this was your first restaurant, and you had opened it on Veteran’s Day, which is so symbolic, and I’m sure it has such a deep meaning for you. Can you talk about why you decided to open it on veteran’s day and what that process looked like for you?

[00:11:47] Gary Hwang: Thanks for asking that question. I actually almost forgot that we opened on that spin. To answer your question, we didn’t plan on opening on Veteran’s day actually. It just fell into it perfectly because originally we were supposed to open eight months earlier. But the whole COVID situation just dropped everything. The contractor stopped working. All the shipments were delayed. All of the supplies we needed to build our restaurant were delayed. Yeah, we actually did not plan on opening on veteran’s day. It just happened, oh, it’s Veterans Day, and I think a local news article wrote or local news wrote an article about it just cause it’s so I guess symbolic.

[00:12:24] Maggie Chui: Wow. That’s amazing. A lot of businesses have struggled during COVID and we know that one of your restaurants is one of them that has struggled. I’m sure you went through so many ups and downs of just trying to open up the restaurant during that time. Especially as a minority, a lot of us were affected, due to either racism or whatever it was.

[00:12:47] Tell us about the whole process of that. Why was it so difficult and what was going through your mind at that time? I’m sure you were extremely stressed out. And, how did you stay on top of it and make sure, your team was doing well, no one was freaking out at the time, just managing a team is just so much pressure and burden for you as a leader.

[00:13:05] What was going on at that time? What were you thinking at that time? 

[00:13:08] Gary Hwang: Wow. That’s a deep question. COVID definitely hit us hard and it affected us in every possible way. I want to give out a shout-out to my partner. He’s one of the big brains behind Gyuzo, Derek Lu.

[00:13:23] He’s my partner. Shout out to you, bro. If you’re listening. He’s one of the other glues that helped keep the team together. During COVID, as I said before, delete everything and it caused a headache and, it was just like it’s full of uncertainties. We can’t plan ahead because we don’t know what’s going to happen next.

[00:13:39] Because there were a bunch of shutdowns and reopenings and another shutdown. I think we got shut down. Overall, we got shut down multiple times, like four or five times, and we have to reopen three or four or five times. So it was really hard to retain. Trying to retain our staff because our staff needs to make money too in order to survive, and we understand that. They make good money at Gyuzo, they can’t make money if we’re closed, and it hits us. And we had to pay for rent and a bunch of other things. It’s just full of uncertainties. We were scared honestly, but we also adopted, we did a bunch of carrying out and deliveries on like different kinds of Wagyu bento boxes and just a bunch of different things. 

[00:14:18] And then I guess a good point is that you hit that as being an Asian minority during COVID, a lot of people were affected including restaurants. Luckily our restaurant wasn’t targeted, but a bunch of restaurants in our area got targeted for vandalism. A bunch of them got broken into. It might be racial issues. We don’t know, but they were, as far as I know, I think seven. It was like six or seven out of the eight were, Asian-owned or Asian-themed restaurants. It was a time of uncertainty. We were struggling and we were able to adapt and survive it out.

[00:14:52] And even during that time, I believe it was December. COVID was spreading. So I got COVID. I was out for two weeks and my partner had to just take over everything, everything that I was responsible for. So he was stressed out and then we got shut down again and then like we had to reopen again. It was crazy, but we actually reopened another key date. We actually re after we got shut down for a month and a half, we reopened on Valentine’s day of 2021. It seems like we are always open on these key dates. So that’s pretty much it. 

[00:15:21] Bryan Pham: Shout out to you. We hear from our restaurant friends, that the restaurant industry is one of the toughest industries to be a part of simply because the margins are razor-thin a lot thinner than any of us think. 

[00:15:34] And I’m curious too, how has inflation and the supply chain issue affected your business the way you had to think about getting ingredients and supplies and all the other stuff. How does that affect your business personally? 

[00:15:48] Gary Hwang: Yeah. That’s a very good question, Bryan. I’m pretty sure. Not a majority of Americans don’t know how, not even just restaurants, a lot of businesses are affected by this huge inflation and the supply chain issues. I want to say it started happening about five months ago, six months ago, you start seeing a slow creep of food costs, and it affected us a lot. Like we’re talking about going from, let’s say a 30% to 35% food cost to maybe 50%, 60% food cost on some restaurants. 

[00:16:19] Like one of my other restaurants. We’re at almost a 55% food cost right now. So that’s why we have to adjust our prices to make up for it because let’s say the price of chicken used to be $0.99 a pound per chicken right now. I think it’s averaging anywhere from $3.80 to $4.50 a pound. 

[00:16:39] So we’re talking about like 400% to 500% increase, I’m sorry, 300% to 400% increase in certain supplies. And with pork belly, it’s the same thing. It’s just everything. So, it significantly affected the restaurant industry, including us. And what we’ve done is that we were already prepared for that ahead of time. So we do eat up some of the costs, but we try not to raise it too much on the price because psychologically, it takes a while for people to realize inflation in their own heads. 

[00:17:09] Cause if you look back 20 years ago like $25 could be able to fill up a whole tank. But it doesn’t like registering into people’s minds psychologically, until at least a few years out. So we’re slowly adjusting our prices, but not to the point where it’s affecting people’s pockets, but pretty much to help us stay afloat and keep the costs down. 

[00:17:29] Bryan Pham: Yeah. That’s definitely tough. I think it’s really smart that you bring up part of yourself. You don’t want a psychological spike in the prices. You slowly increase, like they didn’t get more expensive. That’s the question everyone’s asking. 

[00:17:40] Gary Hwang: They will come back next time. They were like, oh, why is pork belly $20 more?

[00:17:43] Bryan Pham: That’s pretty insane. And I’m curious too. I don’t know where I’ve seen this earlier. I guess I’ve seen something on your Facebook a couple of months back or something, or maybe on Yelp about some customers writing some bad reviews, but I think the way that you handled the situation was awesome. How do you handle those kinds of situations where you see a bad Yelp review, see a bad review somewhere? How do you as an owner first, how do you feel when you see something like that? It’s second after the emotion is set aside. How do you deal with that situation? 

[00:18:13] Gary Hwang: Another great question, Bryan. So obviously it does make me feel like I’m personally attacked, cause it’s we put our heart, mind, sweat, blood, and tears into this. And how we react to it is no matter what we act professionally, we take it seriously. Sometimes it’s real legit issues, sometimes let’s say. Something was messed up. They didn’t get a certain order or let’s say there was example hair in their food or something, whatever it is, we try to fix it.

[00:18:38] If it’s our fault, definitely, we fix it a hundred percent. It depends on what the reason was. For those of you guys in the restaurant industry, you guys know some people can be a little over the edge. They expect everything like crazy service. We had this one lady, I think she waited literally five minutes for her table to get ready for it, to be cleaned up and reset. And she was like, like just five minutes, and she got furious and started yelling at my host. And I had to pretty much calm her down. And find out what the issue is, and she’d demanded like a 90%, 100% discount practically. I was like, hold up. I still handled it professionally of course. Even no matter how ridiculous some complaints are, we gave her a very small discount, just like a free dish of something that has a very cheap cost, a good soul, on the house. Just to calm the situation rather than let’s say. Emotionally, it gets worse. And we have to like, let’s say, call the cops to take her out.

[00:19:31] I’d rather just, just, eat it up, just eat it up, take it for the team because it’s not worth our time to fight with those kinds of people. But for the majority party, we try to fix what the reviews do entail. If it’s something we need to work on, we’ll do it because we’re not perfect. We’re always trying to strive to improve our service, our quality of food, and everyone’s experience.

[00:19:51] Maggie Chui: I got to say, I love that transparency and it’s really common to see bad Yelp reviews on Yelp. People love to leave Yelp reviews when they’re having a bad experience, but if they do have a good experience they’re less likely to leave a review. And so I do see sometimes, restaurant owners, they do, yell back or fight back. And sometimes it gets a lot of hype like, oh, some people love drama, so they’re like, wow, good for the restaurant owner for standing up for themselves. But then it only gets hyped for maybe a week or two, and then it passes by. But I love that you try to take constructive feedback and you’re still nice to all the customers because who knows, maybe they’ll come back because they saw how transparent and how honest you were. And maybe that small percentage of people will come back and say, they tried to amend things. They tried to make things right. so I’ll come back the next time and try it again. So I just love your perspective and outlook for that.

[00:20:43] Gary Hwang: Oh, thanks, Maggie. 

[00:20:45] Bryan Pham: Yeah, of course. So I do want to talk about your social media. So you are pretty big on social media for Gyuzo Barbecue. 

[00:20:54] And Youtube. 

[00:20:55] Maggie Chui: And your personal and your wife as well. You guys are pretty big on social media and obviously, there are a lot of benefits to putting your restaurant or business on social media.

[00:21:06] I’m curious to know have you seen a lot of results or like customers coming in from them finding out about Gyoza Barbecue through social media? And how do you decide to leverage anything that’s popular? Cause I noticed that there were videos of people in Squid Game gear at the restaurant. And that’s one of those things where I’m just like I would love to go to that restaurant because they have Squid Game cookies and gear and stuff like that. So that’s something that is really cool. Talk about how you see Gyozo and your businesses on social media and the presence and impact that it has.

[00:21:40] Gary Hwang: Yeah. So as we know perception is reality, for most of those people, perception is reality, whatever they perceive on, whether it’s social media or through real-life interactions. That’s what reality is. So social media has done a huge key part in almost any business nowadays. So shout out to my wife, Jess, cause she’s the one that actually manages our social media and she does a really wonderful job.

[00:22:04] And thank you for saying we’re big, but I’m not big on social media, but my wife is big. But shout out to her. Cause she’s the one that manages all the Gyuzo posts and pretty much everything on there. I think it’s huge for restaurants because that’s how you try to interact with your guests or your customers or client base. And that’s how you build your relationship. Whether it be Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, its newest one. Ever since the pandemic hit, we haven’t taken advantage of that just because it takes so much creativity to make a viral TikTok video. 

[00:22:33] I’m not like a big social media person. I’m horrible. That’s why I have my wife. But social media is a huge play into restaurants. And that’s how you interact with your guests. And that’s how you can advertise. But it’s hard at the same time for restaurants because not many people want to just see food posts every day. Especially from the same restaurant, same type of food, it gets boring. So that’s why we spice things up a bit. Like when Squid Game was hot, my wife actually got the idea. Hey, we could do something at our restaurant. So we looked up online, we found some Squid Game outfits and we thought it’d be cool if we could, kind of have a prize. So we did the cookies, like all our staff, our team wore Squid Game suits, masks, everything, the whole nine yards. Just to give that a cool experience. And it was Halloween too. So it’s like the perfect time to do this event. I believe we did it for a few weeks to give people time to actually experience it.

[00:23:21] Because if we only do it for two, three days, a lot of people are gonna miss out. But yeah, so I’m kinda upset cause I really want to do it a little bit longer. Because so many people loved it, but we’ll bring it back with other themes later. But people really enjoyed it and it kind of helped us grow even more on social media. Because people are like oh my God, this restaurant is doing a Squid Game theme. And they give out these cookies to cut out. And don’t worry though. There are no repercussions if you mess up on the cookies, we’re not gonna double your bill or something. If you mess up the cookies, that would be a good marketing tactic, like a free meal or double your bill. 

[00:23:55] Maggie Chui: Hilarious. 

[00:23:55] Gary Hwang: But yeah, we’d give them a prize if they made the cookie correctly. And then, just give them that dining experience.

[00:24:00] Maggie Chui: Yeah, that is amazing. I love that you’re using social media and just anything that’s popular to uplevel your restaurant and your business because that’s really the secret sauce to survive nowadays. And I think a lot of mom-and-pop stores don’t get the opportunity to do that.

[00:24:17] And we’re living in the day and age where we have all the resources and everything that we can use in terms of social media to really bring our restaurant and business to the next level. So congrats on the success that you had for that theme. 

[00:24:31] Gary Hwang: Thank you, Maggie.

[00:24:31] Bryan Pham: Definitely big congrats. And again, we know nothing, it’s easy, right? Running a restaurant is not easy. Managing a team is not easy. Creating a culture that you create is not easy. 

[00:24:41] So I’m curious as to what is next for Gary? Because I feel like you’re already the “Man of Hustle”. If you guys can see behind Gary, it says “Hustle Executing. Grind.” Three words that Gary is. So what’s next for you, man? What’s the journey beyond? Are you spending more on restaurant units? Other different side hustles? I see that you’re investing in crypto right now. What’s going on, Gary?

[00:25:02] Gary Hwang: That’s a good question. I ask myself that every day actually. So I just recently helped open another restaurant a few months ago. It’s high-end Sichuan food. So I helped my partner build it up because he needed some help managing it and whatnot. So, I oversaw the entire house operations. So now that’s settled down. We have enough managers and staffing is good and everything’s running smoothly. Possibly more restaurants, honestly. So I’m part of a bigger restaurant group called IVEA restaurant group.

[00:25:32] The president owns all of them. And he has, I want to say around 50 right now. That’s a lot to manage and he wants me to open and invest and open another one in the Maryland area and Virginia later this year. I’m just like, okay. All right, hold on. Let me decide first. Let me take a break and let me do my research. Like due diligence, the type of concept, location, food cost, of course. Yeah, we’re looking right now, at the possibility of opening more restaurants. 

[00:25:59] Bryan Pham: Damn that is quite the hustle. Managing one restaurant is so hard and you’ll open more.

[00:26:05] Gary Hwang: Yeah. That’s crazy. 

[00:26:08] Maggie Chui: That’s amazing. Congrats to you. Someone who opens their first restaurant and does not have a lot of experience in that field. Brian and I hear every day that running a restaurant is not easy at all, and to get into that field with no experience a lot of people probably have that experience from their parents owning a restaurant.

[00:26:27] Just props to you, we’re happy for all the success that you have. And can’t wait to hear about the other restaurants opening up for you as well. 

[00:26:34] Bryan Pham: And props to Gary for not having receipts inside its meat every time. For context, the first time that we met Gary was in Washington DC, a late Korean Barbecue. It’s pretty late at night. We’re walking out. The meat was cut in all different sizes. There was a receipt, eventually, inside of one of the plates that was hidden against the meat. Whoa, what an experience? 

[00:26:57] Maggie Chui: It was funny. 

[00:26:59] Bryan Pham: It was pretty funny. Retrospect. I feel like all the waiters were super high.

[00:27:05] Maggie Chui: Little boxes with the saran wrap. So usually the saran wrap has a package. You can label it on it. I think it was that, but either way, the waiter didn’t see it until we pointed it out and he was trying to take a deeper look. I think it was like. 

[00:27:20] Bryan Pham: And the deeper he looked, his shirt got stuck inside the grill area. His shirts have got grease now as he’s looking over. But I’m so glad Gary took that experience and learned. And none of that happens at his restaurant by the way. 

[00:27:37] Gary Hwang: Oh my God. It’s funny that you bring back that memory because I remember specifically telling you guys, after that event in DC, I was like, yo, I want to take you guys to one of the best Korean Barbecue restaurants in the area.

[00:27:48] We were hyping it up for you guys. Like, you guys are going to love it. As soon as we get there, our first meat that comes out in the middle of cooking, we see like a receipt burning, almost catching on fire. And I bet you what it was, it’s the ticket receipt for the kitchen. So, I mean the time they put an order in, the ticket prints out and that’s what it’s for and put it along with the plate of a dish that they ordered, so you know what table it goes to. So I bet you that’s what it was. And yeah, I’m pretty sure that server was really high. Oh my God. 

[00:28:16] Can you open up a Korean barbeque place in their place in the DC area?

[00:28:25] Yeah, that was definitely a memorable experience. 

[00:28:29] Maggie Chui: It was definitely a memorable experience. And that was the first time we had met. So we’ll always remember that time that we ate together and we found a receipt in our food. 

[00:28:37] So Gary, we have one last question for you, and that is if you could give advice to someone who is trying to get into the restaurant business. What would that advice be? 

[00:28:50] Gary Hwang: I think the best advice that I could give, honestly, Not even just for the restaurant industry, but just for almost anything that you are going to work on or start upon, is finding a good team and find a good partner because no matter what industry you’re in, you’re going to need to be able to need someone, that one that you can trust. And two, you can rely on and work well together. 

[00:29:17] Like for example, my partner, Derek, we fill in each other’s weaknesses, our strengths, and our weaknesses are pretty much polar opposites. Like he’s very creative and he’s the one that came up with the majority of the recipes and concepts with the chef. And he’s the one that actually designed our entire restaurant just by himself, designed the entire thing inside out. And my strong suit is my analytics and my operation side from the military. So I was able to help with the training, hiring. And luckily we have a good team because in the hiring process, honestly, I interviewed probably 150 people, and out of 150. I only hired, I want to say about 37. And the reason I go through a rigorous interview process is that I’d rather hire the right person the first time around so you don’t have to waste more time later down the road because having a good work environment, good team environment will make or break any business.

[00:30:16] So that’s my advice. It’s just having the right partner on your team and the right team in your organization will make or break any business. 

[00:30:25] Maggie Chui: I absolutely agree. And that’s amazing advice. I love that you put the emphasis that you took more time to interview more candidates is always better than wasting more time in the long run. If you had to, let them go and find other candidates. It’s a really good perspective and advice. Thank you so much for sharing that. 

[00:30:43] And where can our listeners find out more about you and your businesses online, including deals over a barbecue. 

[00:30:49] Gary Hwang: Oh, man. Okay. You guys can find me on Instagram, it’s @garyhwang24, and where you guys can find out more about the restaurants and upcoming restaurants is at IVEA, which is ivea.co 

[00:31:07] Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that, Gary. We’ll leave all of those in the show notes for this episode. It was amazing hearing your story. Just want to thank you for hopping onto our podcast today. 

[00:31:18] And thank you guys for having me on the show. 

[00:31:20] Bryan Pham: Of course.