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[Lil’Laoban]: Fei of Duo Duo Guan Zhao

“Cooking and eating are my two favorite things…”
2022-10-13 12:00:00
Lil’Laoban is a column series that shines the spotlight on independent entrepreneurs in Shanghai. We’re talking to them about their journey, wildest ambitions and how they’ve carved their niche in this city. The Lil’Laoban series is part of SHANG!, a grass-roots initiative founded by friends and businesses to celebrate the always-looking-up spirit of the city and everyone that calls Shanghai home.

Just around the way from the center of the Shanghai universe on Donghu Lu is "多多关照" AKA "Duo Duo Guan Zhao", AKA "Yoroshiku" in Japanese, a hip and laidback little Japanese oden eatery that trades in devout reverence for classic Japanese flavors and the city's best take on the radish.

The owner and chef of 多多关照is Fei, a Shanghai native who's been really, really diligently studying food — Japanese cuisine, that is — since he was out of middle school. SHANG! caught up with Fei to get some good recommendations for dishes, hear about his story in Shanghai F&B, and learn more about the inspiration behind the restaurant.


SmSh: Can you introduce yourself? Where are you from?

Fei: My name is Fei. I am Shanghainese.

SmSh: What is your background in the restaurant biz?

Fei: My parents have a restaurant, so I've been around the business ever since I was young. Looking back when I was a kid, I felt like I was living inside of the industry and learning about it unconsciously. After I graduated middle school, instead of doing more academics, I went for culinary studies in a technical school.

After graduating there, I worked at a Japanese restaurant in town for ten years. I've always had a great passion towards cooking and I've created several brands and venues. This one — "Yoroshiku" or "Duo Duo Guan Zhao" in Chinese — is one of the more successful ones...

That's about it!

SmSh: Can you introduce the restaurant to people who might not have heard of the venue before? What was the inspiration behind it?

Fei: Hmm. Let me think. Well, we don't use oil and salt — all our seasonings are imported from Japan. We're trying for strict authenticity with our tastes and flavors — just like the way our Japanese teachers taught us they should be. We also adapt a few things to the lifestyle of the younger generation in this city — "轻脂". We try to have low fat options and cooking techniques, even though I myself am a bit overweight. [Laughs.]

We've been around for two years now. In August, it's a full two years. The inspiration is... well, I wanted to make oden [Japanese one pot dishes], so that's my inspiration. But the creative side is provided by my sister Xiaofeng Jin, who works in the advertising industry. She even gave us the name, "Duo duo guan zhao". Originally, we were called "Kanto Chivalry". [Laughs.]

But if we stuck with the name "Kanto Chivalry", we probably wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation right now. [Laughs.]

So, she did the name, the logo, and everything related with the interior designs: the colors, the styles, and so on. I was thinking to only be fully in charge of my part — the dishes.

"For the menu, all I did was read books. I have hundred of books on Japanese cuisine. I'm constantly reading books and watching videos."

SmSh: How have you changed and evolved since openning?

Fei: We've gotten a lot more professional over the two years. We've learned to work together as a team to realize goals. You can't blame employees when you have many plans that you want to be executed and they don't do it well, I think. There is a breakdown in communication there. But these days, I feel, we have a fully covered system and operating principles — weekly routine meetings and a more efficient problem solving system. Things like that. So, I feel like we've become more professional and are on the right track to do things right.

SmSh: How did the menu come into being? Can you highlight a few recommendations for people who might not have eaten here yet?

Fei: Oh, for the menu, all I did was read books. I have hundred of books on Japanese cuisine. I'm constantly reading books and watching videos. What I tried to do was imitate first and then exceed. That was pretty much my process. I'm just hoping we can do our best to do the food justice.

Food recommendations, sure. Well, our radish, of course. That's our number one. We sell 10,000 dishes of it every year. No, wait. 100,000 a year?

I've never done the math, it's a lot anyway.Let's see. 300 dishes a day, comes to 10,000 a month, right? Okay, so it's 100,000 a year, right? It's a lot anyways.

One piece of the radish takes up to four hours to stew. As for the broth, the katsuobushi, we do it the way that completely follows the traditional recipe. Radishes are peeled and cut by hand. That's one you should try.

Another one is the truffle radish. Yeah, another radish dish. We create the truffle sauce, and pour it over the top of the radishes, in order to keep the flavors. From my experience as a chef, the good flavors are the ones able to stay in the nose. So many of those delicious ingredients — the foie, the truffle — the reason why they taste good is because the flavors stay in the nose for a bit longer.

And for a third one, try the tamagoyaki. If you ask for some signature dishes, I think pretty much about it. Oh, the foie sushi, I can say it's the best out of all of the foie sushi that I've had. The recipe we use is from the restaurant where I worked for 10 years. The recipe was taught by Japanese chefs. After almost 20 years of market testing, I can say it's the best recipe for foie sushi in Shanghai.

SmSh: Donghu Lu is right at the heart of things downtown.How do you like the street and the neighborhood?

Fei: I like it. We have three restaurants in Shanghai — the other two are onMaoming Lu and Yanping Lu. Customers here are younger and wealthier. I do like the environment here. People say Donghu Lu is one of the top streets downtown. It's not easy to rent a place here. Very expensive. It's pretty nice though.

SmSh: How are you dealing with the pandemic / lockdown stuff? And what's your outlook like these days? Are you optimistic for the future?

Fei: Thanks to the savings we had from the first one and half years, it was not too bad for us. Everyone in the F&B industry has been affected by the pandemic. I'm happy to say I still give my staff their full salaries. I've heard of other restaurant owners who are cutting salaries. These people are usually just investors from the advertising or fashion industry, and don't understand how hard it is for restaurant workers.

But I know my staff. And I know the importance of treating people well. For my staff, if they work hard, they can become investors of our new restaurants over time, and develop on that side of things. Secondly, I understand what they want, they need to pay rent, they have kids and family to take care of. So, I'd rather bear more pressure but still pay them with full salaries.

I'd say it's all about taking the downs with the ups. I've learnt from the failures in the other dozen restaurants I've had. I know all I need to do is to try my best to do everything well, to compensate for the loss. As long as the team exists, I have the confidence things will work out.

I still have hope for the future. I hope when people think about us, they can be like: They are really dedicated. They make as much effort as they can to do the job well. I am optimistic about the future. We are even planning to open restaurants out of Shanghai next year.

SmSh: What's your favorite thing about living in Shanghai?

Fei: Actually, I'm Shanghainese and all Shanghainese don't like Shanghai. [Laughs.]

It's a very fast-paced city — maybe too fast-paced. Maybe we've lost a little humanity. But cooking and eating are my favorite two things and it's a good place to do that. If I have to name something else... the downtown is nice and it's a convenient life. It's easy to meet up with people. Yeah, that's pretty much it.

Shanghai is a great city for the F&B industry, so I'm confident to start from here and spread out the business to the other parts of China. It's good — I won't spend my retirement life here though.[Laughs.]