Hannah and Marian Cheng are the co-founders of the East Village dumpling restaurant Mimi Cheng’s. In October, they opened a second location in Nolita. The sisters, who previously worked in fashion and finance, live together and employee 60 people in both restaurants. They say the biggest challenge has been wrangling ConEd — but, even with starting a business, they still find time to travel, work out, and stay out late. Here’s how they get it all done.
On a day in the life of two sisters opening the second location of their restaurant:
Hannah: We wake up 6 a.m. Marian doesn’t like to do work at our apartment, but I do, so I’ll usually wake up and do an hour or two of work at home while I’m getting ready and eating breakfast. Recently, I’ve come to the shop and started doing more work here. We have host training until noon, then I’ll go to ModelFit for an hour, then come back and do more work. And then we’ll do host nighttime training. Afterward, me, Marian, and our partner, Mina, will kind of just sit around and rehash the day, which is also really funny because we’ll be delirious by then. We usually get home around midnight or so.
Marian: I get up, get ready, go to a café to do work. I get there around seven and start to get caffeinated, then come over to the shop to do paperwork, onboarding, that kind of thing. We’ve been hosting a.m. training sessions and ones at night. In between, we’re making sure all of our equipment is working, making sure that things are consistent, doing prep, ordering things we need, writing emails. I haven’t been working out recently — for me, it’s been more about going up and down the stairs.
On why sometimes not knowing what you’re doing is better than the alternative:
Hannah: The first time we opened, we had no idea what we were doing. Marian came directly from fashion and I was still working in finance. We were like, “Oh, this seems like a good amount of food for opening.” We were in the New York Times and we had no idea what that implied. Turns out, it meant 500 people showing up at our door and what we had was not nearly enough. But we’ve learned from that experience.
I’m glad we underestimated how stressful it would be because if we had known how hard it was, we would have never started this business. People come in and say they want to open a restaurant and we say, “Do you really?” How badly do you want to do it? Can you not stop thinking, breathing, dreaming about it? Because if you’re not obsessing over it, then run away. Just run away.
On the one enemy that every small-business owner makes and why you should always listen to your grandmom:
Hannah: Any small-business owner — especially in the restaurant world — will learn that it’s a rite of passage to fight with ConEd. They kept saying, “Oh we’ll come, we’re going to turn the electricity on.” They just kept postponing it, not showing up, postponing it, not showing up, and then making up all this stuff about why they weren’t there. There was electricity in this space when we got here, but not enough. We couldn’t turn on our equipment, otherwise everything would blow out. We called so many people to figure out what to do.
Marian: Literally everything under the the sun that we could have done, we did.
Hannah: One of our restaurant-owner friends said that had happened to his restaurant and that we needed to call local politicians and ask them for help. We have this amazing, 85-year-old Italian grandmom and she had told me months ago to do that — but I didn’t really believe her, because she also writes letters to the president. So when our friend said this, I was like, “Are you kidding me? My grandmom told me to do that months ago and I didn’t listen to her.” I started calling all the local politicians and explaining our situation. They called all these senior people at ConEd and they really got the ball rolling.
On what it’s like to work together and live with your sister:
Marian: It’s really never been a problem. We know each other in and out. We have the same motivations and values, so it’s never like we have to ask each other, “What’s your intention?”
Hannah: But I also know some sisters where I’d say, no definitely not. Growing up, we were never competitive with each other. We always celebrated each other’s wins and I definitely know some sisters who weren’t like that.
On why being a “go-hard” person can be a huge asset to working in the restaurant industry:
Marian: We love being active. We love taking classes. We love traveling. We go to L.A. and Australia fairly frequently. We have a lot family from Australia and we’ve been going there since we were young. We also love this neighborhood and our East Village neighborhood — there are so many good restaurants and so many things happening all the time and still, late-night now after a long shift, we’ll go to Pasquale Jones for pizza and a glass of Champagne to celebrate.
Hannah: I think the way people describe us is that we are “go-hard” people. Even when it’s our relaxing time, we’re going to workout classes or running out to meet friends or going out to other restaurants to eat. I remember the first day after opening: It was 3 a.m., and my entire family, including my fiancé, who also works on a trading floor and had to wake up at 5:30 a.m., were all sitting in the kitchen, like zombies, prepping broccoli for the next day. I’m looking around like, this is not what I signed up for, but I believe everything happens for a reason and we are able to pull it off because of who we are.
On being anti-multitasking:
Hannah: We don’t believe in multitasking. I did for many years and then I realized by multitasking, I was just doing a bunch of things slower. We now do things based on urgency and priority. It’s a way better system and you’re not so scatterbrained as a result.
Marian: We have a collective and an individual to-do list. And Google Drive is our best friend.