It’s Women’s History Month, and we’re picking the brains of bold, powerful women who represent our future. Today, meet sisters and restauranteurs Hannah and Marian Cheng.
Throughout time, we’ve counted on a small number of community leaders to push things forward, break perceptions, and bring change. And ladies, the past two years have been pivotal. We’ve seen–and struggled with, and spoken out against, and called shit out on–issues that have been pressing, and still continue to press, womenkind. It’s change that we want to champion throughout this month, while celebrating those who are propelling us into a far better future. So throughout March, we are focusing what matters to us most, right now: groundbreaking, culture-shifting, era-defying, and straight up goals women.
By Brittany Natale
Photos by Maya Fuhr
Sisters Hannah and Marian Cheng are queens of mastering the career change, something that can be equal parts exciting and terrifying. Hannah, who worked on the trading floor of J.P. Morgan for eight years, and Marian, who studied international business and worked in the fashion industry, left their 9-5’s and decided to take the entrepreneurial leap to start their own business in 2014. Fueled by determination and armed with their mother’s secret dumpling recipe, the sisters ventured on to open up their very own restaurant, Mimi Cheng’s, which quickly became a NYC crowd favorite.
Named in honor of their mother and inspired by her homemade cooking, Mimi Cheng’s serves organic and locally-sourced Taiwanese-Chinese dumplings, often collaborating with other NYC establishments to create unique flavors you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. Its aim is to share authentic Taiwanese food and culture with its community, while also to creating inviting, warm environments with its locations – an ideal so important in today’s world.
Hannah and Marian recently spoke to Nasty Gal about making major career moves, becoming your own boss, and realizing that nothing in life is final – so don’t be afraid to shake things up and make that jump.
How did the idea for Mimi Cheng’s came about?
Mimi Cheng’s was founded because we couldn’t find anything like our mom’s cooking – delicious, healthy, and authentic Taiwanese food, in NYC. We didn’t understand why all the Chinese and Taiwanese food options were so heavy, and oily, and in settings where you couldn’t relax and enjoy a good meal.
You mentioned that Mimi Cheng’s is inspired by your mother – having a strong female role model in our lives is so important. In what other ways has your mother inspired you?
She has touched every aspect of our lives. It would be impossible to say we did anything without her influence.
You both left careers in different fields, fashion and business, to start Mimi Cheng’s. Can you tell us a bit about what that process was like?
It was a huge leap of faith, jumping into something we knew nothing about. We started with meeting with our friends, who were already in the industry, like Sweetgreen and Luke’s Lobster, for advice and guidance. Then, Marian left Burberry and was part of the opening team of the first NYC Sweetgreen. We signed a ten-year lease without having ever done any pop-ups, which luckily worked out for us but we wouldn’t recommend it.
When was that moment you realized, “Okay, we have to do this. It is now or never”?
We had privately discussed the idea for a year and then decided we had to actually take action or stop talking about it. It wasn’t an idea that we were willing to stop talking about.
What have you learned so far from starting your own business?
There will be issues and difficult situations but that is not special to you and me. It’s part of the journey.
What does a typical workday look like for both of you?
Both of us wake up around 6:30 – 7am and make a big breakfast because we won’t have a chance to eat lunch until about 3 or 4pm. We enjoy some quiet time and then start responding to emails or whatever correspondence around 8am. Then we go to the restaurants and get ready to open for the day. We’re in and out of the kitchen throughout the day and taking care of paperwork (payroll, scheduling, organizing catering inquiries, bookkeeping, interviews, and responding to customer emails) when we’re not. There is usually some down-time between 4 and 6pm so if we didn’t work out in the morning, we usually squeeze in a workout at S10 during this time. Then we’re back in the restaurant for the dinner rush until at least 8:30pm.
You two are sisters, born 18 months apart. How is it working alongside family?
Working alongside family is great for us because we have the same mentality and end goals. There’s 100% trust.
“People may not always take us seriously at first because of our age or gender but you have to conduct yourself in a way that shows you mean business.”
Who or what are some of your biggest influences?
We really look up to Sweetgreen – they’ve revolutionized the way people eat by making delicious and healthy food much more accessible. We know because we eat there about 3 times a week. Our other favorite company is Away Luggage. It’s inspiring how they’ve been able to build a community and narrative around their suitcases. We love our Away luggage and always gets excited when we see other people with them while we travel.
What are some of the biggest issues that you feel women face today, either in business or beyond?
People may not always take us seriously at first because of our age or gender but you have to conduct yourself in a way that shows you mean business.
What advice do you have for those looking to start their own business or undergo a career change?
Take a chance! Nothing is final in life.
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