10-18 11:37 | Barbecue restaurant extraordinaire: Long Time Ago
In China, people are crazy about “Chuan’er”, a Chinese style kebab. It’s cheap, yummy and convenient. Once you’ve had it, it’s hard to get enough. In this episode, my producer will take me to one of the most popular Chuan’er restaurants in Beijing. We’ll meet with the founder, a man said to earn over 2 million dollars each month, and this guy’s only 30 years old.
TITLE: Barbecue restaurant extraordinaire: Long Time Ago
SOUNDBITE 1：(Mandarin) Song Ji, the founder of Long Time Ago，"One, two, three."
SOUNDBITE 2: (Mandarin) Producer: "You’re a coward."
STORY: In China, people are crazy about “Chuan’er”, a Chinese style kebab. It’s cheap, yummy and convenient. Once you’ve had it, it’s hard to get enough. In this episode, my producer will take me to one of the most popular Chuan’er restaurants in Beijing. We’ll meet with the founder, a man said to earn over 2 million dollars each month, and this guy’s only 30 years old.
"One, two, three."
"You’re a coward."
Follow me to experience his restaurant, explore his company, and unravel the secrets behind his success. He’s gonna teach me to be a millionaire... For free. I’m Kyle, and this is In China.
Kyle: So we’re here on Gui Jie and I love Chuan’er. I love it. I’m obsessed. A lot of people when they looked at Beijing they kind of stay away from here ’cause they’re not sure like where the meat comes from and all that. But I mean I love it. I always have. So yeah we’re just gonna go check out this other place, this restaurant called ‘Long Time Ago.’ Apparently it’s one of the most successful Chuan’er restaurants. I’ve never been to it because it’s probably too successful. There are too many people. This place is apparently pretty popular. I mean they must be doing something right. There’s… tons of people outside. I hope I don’t have to wait.
Chinese guy: Hey! Hello.
Kyle: Hi! Just give a ticket? Cool. How long to wait?
Chinese guy: Thirty minutes.
Kyle: Thirty minutes! Ah, it’s alright. I gotta… That might be too long. I get to wait.
Yeah, I gotta ask my friends up.
The waiting time wasn’t too long. But, to be honest, I’d have probably just gone to another place if it weren’t for the shooting. At the same time, I was curious about why so many people come to the restaurant knowing they’ll have to wait. So my producer and I talked to some of the customers who were waiting outside.
Producer: How long have you been waiting here?
Couple 1: One hour. We’re dying, but still we want to eat here.
Couple 1: I ate in the restaurant once. I was impressed. That’s it.
Woman: We finished our dessert over there. I didn’t expect we still need to wait.
Kyle: How did you guys hear about the restaurant?
Couple 2: I went by the restaurant one day, and was attracted by its entire decoration style. Then I searched it on the internet and got quite helpful guide on two group buying websites, LaShou.com and Dianping.com.
Woman: My friends and I just arrived in Beijing, and we asked the taxi driver where to eat Chuan’er. The driver told us Long Time Ago was good. So here we are.
It seems to me that Chinese people take food very seriously. They like to try restaurants which have a respectable reputation and a special, unique vibe. And once they decide they’re going, they don’t seem to mind waiting as long as it takes get a seat. It’s true, waiting for a table is quite common in Beijing, especially on Gui Jie. So most people seem to get used to it.
Kyle：I think that’s me. Yeah. Thanks. Thanks. Yeah. Right on. It’s me.
We were outside the restaurant just digging the people in Gui Jie when our number was finally up.
Kyle:This is more like a club. It’s very modern. I would never have imagined that this could exist. It’s like… It’s very very unusual. Cause most of the time I think of Chuan’er, I think like, I sitting on a tiny stool like in the middle of the street, and there’s like cars driving past me, I’m like eh…
I like that there’s not as much fat on these skewers. When you see that big chunk of fat on there it always scares me away.
I really like to find out more about this place, like how it get started, like…
Producer: Maybe we can ask the waiter to find out the boss, or find out where the office is and if we can visit there?
Kyle: That would be great. Yeah. I would love that. That’d be great. Yeah. Yeah let’s do that.
Producer: OK. Waiter!
We were lucky that the founder of Long Time Ago happened to be there, having dinner in the restaurant.
Mr.Song: I can’t speak English.
So we didn’t hesitate inviting him to our table.
Kyle: How many restaurants there’s other than this? There’s one in Sihui.
Mr.Song: Thirty for now.
Producer: In how many cities?
Mr.Song: In 6 provinces actually. Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Shandong, Henan, and Fujian.
Kyle: Is it more profitable in Beijing, or…?
Mr.Song: Beijing and Shanghai.
Kyle: Two most popular cities. Yeah. It makes sense.
Mr. Song described the concept behind the name of “Long Time Ago”. It’s actually a story he had engraved into the wall of every one of his restaurants. The core of the story concerns Man’s evolution, and the evolution of civilization from the most primitive society through to the modern age.
Mr.Song: We evolved from the primates.
The key to this evolutionary process was man’s discovery of fire. With fire, man began to prepare his meals where before the meat would have been eaten raw. This of course encouraged increased consumption, allowing the human brain to further develop, propelling man forward into a more advanced period. All of the restaurant’s elaborate decorations are based on this story, immersing the customers in the history of man’s evolution.
Kyle: I’m come on the outside looking in. It seems to me like a very Chinese thing. But I understand now that it’s like… it’s more like a human thing. It’s trying to tap all of this like human.
Mr.Song: Welcome to our company next time, and learn about the deeper spirit of Long Time Ago.
Kyle: So last Friday, we went to check out this restaurant called ‘Long Time Ago.’ And actually we got really lucky cause when we were eating we found out that the owner was there. He invited us up to his office in 798. So that’s where we’re headed right now to go in and find and look at more about how he gets the restaurant started and find out how he did it.
Kyle: Alright. Check it out.
Mr.Song: Hi. Hello.
Kyle: Hey, thanks for having us. We appreciate it.
Mr.Song: You’re welcome.
Mr. Song was kind enough to show me around his office. I could tell he implements a strong and unified ideology in the operation of Long Time Ago. His office is decorated in the same style as his restaurants, following the theme of human evolution. He designed a sort of time-traveling tunnel, connected to the various company departments.
Staff: Welcome to the Stone Age.
Each room along the hallway features a different era of human civilization, all of which add to Mr. Song’s narrative. All of the furniture is customized as well, complimenting the atmosphere.
Kyle:I heard this room was filled with beautiful girls.
The ideology, the narrative, the decoration... It’s rare for a Chuan’er restaurant to have such a complete and well implemented design. Impressed by what I’d seen, I didn’t forget why I was there.I wanted to talk to Mr. Song, ask him about how all of his achievements were possible. Ultimately, his story drew a strong parallel to the “Chinese Dream”.
He left his hometown at the age 19 for Beijing, and began working as a waiter, his first job in the city. He opened “Long Time Ago” in 2008 with only 10,000 dollars.Half of the money he borrowed from friends, quite a brave investment. All these experiences added up to the success he now enjoys. In fact, many of his most successful ideas came from his most miserable experiences.
Mr.Song: In the beginning, we couldn’t get the business license. So to avoid the inspection of the Trade and Industry Bureau, we decided to open only at night. After half a year we finally got the license. My staff asked me whether we should open at daytime. I though it over and said no. The opening hour just fit us. And we gradually settled down our nightclub style thanks to the trouble.
Kyle: There’re so many chapters to modern Chinese history but if you think of the Cultural Revolutions specifically, a movement that sort of resulted in a lot of Chinese history being destroyed, it’s cool to see Chinese people kind of taking that history in that past, as such as sort of re-bounding from it and writing their own future. Especially at places like 798. I guess it was a place where a lot of industry was happening but it fell out of use.
And some artists came in, reclaimed the land sort of with their own vision, their own dreams, sort of wrote their own future. And that’s what Mr. Song has done to his restaurant. And in the last 30 years if you know Chinese history, it’s great to see something like that happen, especially right here. So. Right on.