Offering authentic Sichuan street food, and a friendly welcoming service, Chilli Daddy has risen from its initial humble market stall days to become an established catering entity operating in a bustling City Centre setting in Bristol. For its Sichuan uniqueness, continuous hardwork and evergrowing popularity, Chilli Daddy has been chosen to be the Winner of Small Business Elite 2020 by SME. We speak to the Co-Founders Dr Weng and Jing Li about their past unique business journey from 2011-2020 and their customer-centred plan for the future.
Created in 2011 by a dynamic couple, Wengang Weng and Jing Li, Chilli Daddy came from a humble beginning after starting their business life as a market stall at Bristol Tobacco Factory Market offering traditional Sichuan-style street food – the first of its kind in the UK.
Today, Chilli Daddy is still based in central Bristol and attracts a wide variety of customers with its unique recipes which are steeped in history and culture. Forged from years of the hunger of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960) and socialist China, the dishes have been passed down through three generations in a century, beginning with Wengang’s grandmother, Mrs Chen-Zhang, in the early 1900s.
“We are always trying to get more and more local people to know and experience Sichuan street food, Sichuan pepper and chillies and Sichuan food culture in general,” explains Wengang. “Our experience tells us there is no cultural barrier to traditional family-cooking-based Sichuan street food. Sharing its experience makes both our customers and us happy.”
It is clear to see that Wengang and his wife are deeply committed to introducing the people of Bristol to authentic Sichuan food, however Wengang can pinpoint the Chilli Daddy’s success to several things, these being a combination of the traditional recipes on offer; his passion for cooking; his wife’s good sense and taste of food; and his little boy, Rory, acting as a lucky talisman! It was, in fact, young Rory who named the business, Chilli Daddy at the age of just three, and he has attended many street markets and events with his family over the subsequent years – it is a true family operation!
There are no specific types of customers that enjoy Chilli Daddy food. Wengang has noticed people from all walks of life buying Chilli Daddy’s food, however he believes that people who are familiar with intercultural eating find it more appealing, such as college students and office staff. In addition, the food also attracts a substantial number of vegetarian and vegan people due to Wengang incorporating a section of his menu dedicated to meet different dietary requirements.
“At the first stage, we approached customers by giving out samples on the streets and it was quite interactive and effective,” he explains, telling us how he first began to introduce his cooking to the masses. “At a later stage, traditional media like newspaper, radio and social media helped Chilli Daddy to become better known among our potential customers.”
Of course, reputation is everything and the business’ name, its fantastic food and friendly service have also been passed on via word-of-mouth recommendation by customers, helping to make Chilli Daddy a household name in Bristol. However, the ever-growing acceptance and support of customers has seen many become loyal friends over the years, and news of Chilli Daddy’s authentic wares has even seen customers come from afar to visit, such as London, Sheffield, Brighton, Cardiff, and Edinburgh.
“We also have international customers coming from other cultures and countries such as China, Thailand, Malaysia, France and America,” enthuses Wengang. “I came across a customer last year. He lives in USA. But he visits his parents in Bristol regularly. He said that every time he visits Chilli Daddy when he comes to Bristol. Both localised and international loyal customers give Chilli Daddy confidence and energy.”
Owing to such recognition, Chilli Daddy has also been granted several awards, such as BBC Food and Farming Awards 2014 Finalist, TripAdvisor Certificates of Excellence 2016-2020, Bristol Good Food Awards 2016, and Small Business Elite 2020.
It’s not all about great food, however, and as mentioned earlier, Wengang and his wife pride themselves on the excellent customer service which they, and their dedicated team, provide.
Wengang believes that a firm’s culture is like a company’s collective habits or habitual practices. It is a building up process starting from a company’s initial set up. Looking back at the last 10 years of Chilli Daddy’s history, there are some well-established practices which have helped to shape the company.
“Respecting and enjoying traditions such as our family cooking tradition and UK market trade tradition. Chilli Daddy just originated from and was nurtured by these traditions,” he begins.
“We also put a lot of attention to freshness, flavour, colour, smell and taste. Their consistency is paramount.”
Whereas these elements are deeply embedded into the company’s core values, there are things that Wengang would also like to work upon in order to make Chilli Daddy more successful. These include putting more time and effort into communicating effectively with customers and he believes that timely and smooth engagements are essential for the future.
Wengang also wishes to put more effort into team building. As the company has grown, so too has its staff base. In the beginning when Chilli Daddy was a market stall, it was simply Wengang and his wife who were the main workers, operating all elements of the preparation, cooking and serving process. The second stage saw the opening of a market-shop and the role of additional staff became clear. They began to play an ever-increasingly important role in the preparation of the food, the serving of customers and keeping the hygiene and management of the shop in tip-top condition. Today, the continuous hard work and service of the whole team is a crucial factor in Chilli Daddy’s on-going success.
“With the development of Chilli Daddy, our team is getting bigger, and inefficiency, irregularity, confusion and loopholes of man-based team management become more and more outstanding and unignorable,” he states. “We pay a substantial amount of attention to communication, learning, innovation, celebrating success in our team building. Our aim is to build a rule-based family-like team to create an affable working environment. The purpose is to realise our mission and fulfil potentials of every Chilli Daddy team member.”
Over its 10 years in operation, Chilli Daddy has faced many challenges. The first challenge being what Wengang refers to as “vicious and envious competition”. Owing to the company’s success and ever-growing popularity on the streets of Bristol, opportunists opened a similar stall with a very similar name to Chilli Daddy’s. Fortunately, this endeavour was short-lived.
Another challenge is staff management. Wengang explains he finds managing staff can, at times, be much more difficult than creating and executing a delicious dish! Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic set new challenges for the business, however Chilli Daddy rose to the occasion and adapted its services to ensure it could continue operations through a takeaway and delivery service through UBER EATS.
“Under the influence of the pandemic, takeaway and delivery have taken place of dining-in service. This will not get changed in the foreseeable future. In order to keep freshness, warmth and quality of Chilli Daddy’s dishes, some new practices are forming around our takeaway and delivery service.”
For the coming year and beyond, Wengang has a five-fold plan of action. Besides Chilli Daddy’s classic dishes at its site on Baldwin Street, Bristol, there are plans to open a Chilli Daddy Strictly Vegan in Bristol. The second area is the strengthening of the successful takeaway and delivery service; the third area will be a range of new deli-products and services; and the fourth area is to expand, elevate and promote the vegetarian and vegan products and gluten free choices. Last but not the least, Wengang realises the need to do more in providing a more environmentally friendly and sustainable food service.
“We will continue,” he enthuses. “We are getting lots of feedbacks that are really touching and encouraging, so we have to carry on to do better.” “Additionally, in order to cheer up customers’ March mood, we are going to do three days’ buy-one-get-one free deal through UberEats from 23rd March, Tues to 25th March Thursday. Why not take advantage of this offer to try Chilli Daddy.”
For further information, please contact Wengang Weng or visit www.chillidaddy.com