Whether you’re planning a wedding, considering starting a side hustle, or simply looking for some inspiration to pursue your passions, this story is one you won’t want to miss.
Weddings are supposed to be one of the most memorable moments in a couple’s life, but the reality is that the cost of making that dream a reality can be overwhelming, especially for Asian weddings – with the elaborate customs and traditions, and the pressure of inviting every distant relative, including aunts you may not even know.
This is why last year, Lavinia Doan (Bao Nhu) decided to start LAV SUSHI, shortly after getting engaged. She wasn’t sure how to come up with funds for her wedding, and as a daughter of refugees, she had to start from scratch.
In a year of engagement, Lav achieved a milestone: she was able to save up $100K from this side hustle that she used to pay for her wedding. From being a one-woman team, her husband has now joined her in her sushi journey.
FOR THE LAV OF SUSHI
Lav is originally from DC, but she moved to Texas about 5 years ago for a job in oil and gas. She was supposed to work off-shore as an engineer in South America, but due to COVID, she was sent to various places like Midland, Carlsbad, and West Virginia. Although not the most exciting places, she tried to make the most of it by expensing meals, specifically sushi, which she loved. However, she found that the sushi in those places was terrible, so she started making her own.
Lav enjoyed making sushi, but there was a lot of prep work involved, so she started inviting friends over for sushi-making parties to share her passion with them. For her, having friends and family over for a meal was a way to show that she cared for them. Eventually, she left her job in oil and gas and started working in tech, where she was fully remote. Missing the human interaction from her previous job, she began seeking out ways to meet new people.
Being an extroverted person, Lav decided to list sushi classes on Airbnb Experiences as a way to meet people and share her passion with them. What started as a passion project soon turned into a side hustle when she got engaged and needed to find a way to pay for her wedding.
They started with sushi classes which are still their bread and butter, but have since expanded into catering, and homakases (omakase at home).
CHALLENGES OF STARTING HER BUSINESS
It was only two months after the first few classes when Lav got engaged.
Lav and her partner, Dan, started the wedding planning process and quickly realized that the cost of their dream wedding was almost triple what they had planned for. Post-COVID backups and inflation made for an expensive wedding. She knew that they had to either sacrifice their vision for the wedding or find another way to save up.
For them, the wedding was more than just a party to celebrate their marriage; it was an opportunity to give back to their friends, family, and colleagues and treat them to a fun weekend. They felt positively impacted by the people around them and wanted to return the favor at their wedding.
Starting her own business posed the biggest challenge for Lav as she struggled to manage and prioritize her time. In addition to working full time and planning their wedding in the US and Vietnam, she also wanted to maintain a semi-normal social life. She enjoyed spending time with friends, family, her partner, and even alone time. The business was a one-woman show for a long time until she realized that it wasn’t sustainable.
“I would joke with my partner that we would be able to afford the wedding we wanted but wouldn’t have anyone to invite because I hadn’t been able to find time to spend time with friends and colleagues, even my dog and partner were feeling the neglect!” Lav shared. She sacrificed sleep, workouts, and nutrition.
Many nights, after a long day of work and sushi-making, she questioned if it would all be worth it.
EFFECTIVE TIME MANAGEMENT WHILE RUNNING A BUSINESS AND PLANNING A WEDDING
In terms of time management, Lav admits that she is still learning how to do it well.
“I am a normal person and sometimes find myself spending too much time on my phone mindlessly scrolling, forgetting tasks that need to be done, and inefficiently bouncing from one task to the other. But I think it’s okay!” Lav said, and shared a few strategies that have helped her become more productive:
- Waking up early – She wakes up early every morning at 6 am to work out at a pilates studio that charges her if she misses a class. This incentivizes her to start the day early and avoid the temptation to stay in bed and scroll through her phone.
- Blocking off hours – She blocks off hours in her schedule to focus on specific tasks, which helps her prioritize and manage her time more effectively.
- Outsourcing – She has learned to outsource tasks that don’t bring her joy or are too time-consuming. This includes hiring people to help with her sushi business and outsourcing tasks in her personal life.
- Knowing your worth and what your time is worth – This helps her weed out opportunities that aren’t worth pursuing from a time, profitability, and brand standpoint.
- Never compromising the mission – Her mission is to bring the joy of sushi into people’s homes and educate them along the way. She refuses to sacrifice the quality of ingredients or cut costs to increase profitability because the joy and fulfillment of bringing this experience to people’s homes are more important to her than money.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS AND EXPERIENCES
Most of Lav’s friends know that she really likes a challenge, so much so that she feels like being purposefully unprepared presents its own challenge.
Lav signed up for the Houston Marathon, her second marathon ever at that point in time, which she had not trained at all for. She also accidentally overbooked a public sushi class for that same evening in her home. It was her biggest class so far.
So she ran the Houston Marathon, walked to a bar to get some drinks with friends, and then went home to start prepping for her sushi class. LAV SUSHI was still very young at this point, so procedures weren’t very optimized at that point. “The class went well, but there were definitely moments where I thought I would drop the rice pot because my legs were quivering, and I could definitely tell that some guests were uncomfortable by how full the class was. Let me tell you, I never overbooked a class again,” she shared.
That’s not the end of it. After class, Lav cleaned up and started packing for a 2-month ski trip in Colorado. She couldn’t remember if she slept or not, but she did manage to catch her 5 am redeye the following morning.
“Sometimes I think about that day, and get tired just thinking about it. But I really did show myself what I can get done in a day. There are countless amazing experiences I have had with clients that I could write a novel. I have made so many friends and connections through the business, and am thankful to have gotten to know these people!” she adds.
EXCITING NEWS FOR LAV SUSHI
Despite all the challenges that Lav faced in running her business, she was able to generate $100K in one year for her wedding.
Lav and Dan got married just a month ago and they are now taking a break from their Houston-based business to focus on personal matters and other projects. They will soon embark on a six-week expedition to Asia to celebrate their second wedding and honeymoon adventure.
Their dedicated team will be taking care of LAV SUSHI in their absence, ensuring the city continues to enjoy the sushi experiences they offer.
In the meantime, they have some exciting news to share:
“We have been working on launching LAV SUSHI in Atlanta and it is fully operating and ramping up. We would LOVE some AHN support in ATL!”
WHAT MAKES LAV SUSHI UNIQUE AND WELL-LOVED
Lav thinks that the reason why clients of 2000+ love LAV SUSHI could be due to the personalized experience that is tailored to their taste preferences, with each menu being curated to suit their needs.
LAV SUSHI also offers unique catering menus that include a live chef and unlimited sushi, which always brings a “wow” factor to the guests. “People love that they can watch the chef’s roll the sushi right in front of them, and that they can make any requests on demand,” Lav said.
Another highlight of LAV SUSHI is their omakase concept, where they curate a surprise menu within the clients’ budget, which they can enjoy in the comforts of their own home.
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