Michael Chang, Shanie Leung, and Jenny Le, co-owners of Malden-based Tornado Restaurant, 2 Florence St., spoke with Malden Patch about opening a restaurant in the city.
MP: Where do you live?
Michael Chang (M) - Medford
Shanie Leung (S) - Medford. Will move to Malden next year.
Jenny Lee (J) - Medford. Will also look for a place in Malden next year when our lease ends.
Jenny and Shanie grew up in Malden and went to Malden High.
MP: What is your business background?
M - Worked in the kitchen since I was 15 at my parents’ restaurant in Kentucky. Moved to Cambridge, MA when I was 18 and helped my family open Tokyo near Alewife Station. In recent years, I worked in the kitchens of Oishi, Uni Sashimi Bar by Ken Oringer and Tony Messina, and others.
S - I have worked in the restaurant industry since I was 18. Started out as a server then moved on to Manager position at Super Fusion (Brookline) and at Aji (Newton) and most recently worked at Tigers and Bears, a group of restaurants including Tory Row and Miracle of Science.
J - I started out as a cashier at McDonalds when I was 16 and then worked as a server at multiple restaurants while in college. In 2007, I saw that a successful restaurant group in Cambridge was hiring a business manager. Knowing that I wanted to own a restaurant one day, I jumped on the opportunity. I’ve been the Business Manager of Tigers and Bears ever since.
MP: How did you arrive at the decision you wanted to own a restaurant?
J - Shanie and I first talked about owning a restaurant in high school. We loved exploring different restaurants and trying out new food. The idea started out as a joke, an unrealistic wish, but we realized it was something that we both really wanted. With this dream in mind, we tried to learn from our experiences at every restaurant we worked at, examining and remembering both successful stories and mistakes in order to be more prepared to open our own place.
MP: What communities were you considering opening Tornado Restaurant?
S - Tornado was chosen just for Malden.
J - Since Shanie and I grew up in Malden and went to Malden High it was appropriate for us to connect to our roots with Malden by naming the restaurant after the Golden Tornadoes. Tornado was chosen with a lot of thought.
MP: Why did you ultimately decide to open Tornado in Malden?
S - It felt right. Felt like we are giving back to the community we grew up in. In my senior year I could not wait to leave Malden High and this town to explore what’s out there. But slowly over the years, without realizing it, I moved closer and closer back to Malden. I love how Malden is so close to everything and I feel so proud that Malden has blossomed into such a great town.
J - I’ve always loved Malden. When Shanie and I lived at the Gateway Building two years ago we seriously thought about opening a restaurant somewhere in Malden Square but there was nothing available at the time. We never thought we would two years later open Tornado right in Malden Center. It’s absolutely a dream come true for us.
MP: How many dishes are on the menu at Tornado?
M - Currently we have over 40 items on our menu but we change seasonally so it might be more or less in the spring. I can't wait till it is warmer, a lot more exotic ingredients to work with!
S - Our drink menu changes seasonally too.
MP: What is the square footage of Tornado?
J - 2,460 sq. ft.
MP: How many seats are at the restaurant?
J - 61 seats inside and 25 seats outside on the patio.
MP: What is the price range for food served at the restaurant?
J- From $5 for a cold tapa to $28 for an entree.
MP: Are you a member of the Malden Chamber of Commerce? If so, what has it been like working with fellow business owners?
J- Yes, we just got on the Malden Chamber of Commerce. Our fellow business owners have been really supportive and wonderful. A lot of them have been to Tornado and were just really awesome; they gave great feedback and reviews. I think that’s what I love about Malden: we’re all really nice to each other and really want each other to do well.
MP: What has it been like working in Malden?
S - Great! I am so impressed with our customers we have so far! Everyone is so nice, sincere, and just so good to us! Of all the restaurants I have worked at I have never encountered so many great people before. Everyone is just so classy and fun to chat with. I feel like we are connecting and we care about each other; it’s what makes the dining experience so pleasant.
MP: From conceptualization to reality, how long did it take to get the restaurant ready to open?
J - The idea was formed 12 years ago but we started looking for a location seriously 7 years ago. I made an offer for this space in November 2012 and we didn’t start renovating until late August 2013. From signing the purchase and sale agreement to applying for licenses, it took us 10 months to get ready to open. It’s how this business works -- it’s definitely not easy, but we did it and we’re happy we did.
MP: When did you open your doors to customers?
J - We opened to the public on Nov. 4, 2013.
MP: How has business been so far?
J - It’s steadily growing. We know it takes 4-6 months for a restaurant to break even and we’re confident that we will succeed.
MP: What are some of the most popular selling items on the menu?
M - Fish tacos, corn on the cob with our "crack like sauce" (according to one Yelp reviewer), tuna poke and our desserts!
S - Minty lychee martini!
J - All of the above and the chicken milanese. I really love the minty lychee martini. It’s one of my favorites.
MP: Do you do daily/weekly specials?
M - We offer our chef tasting menu every Sunday. $35 for four courses. Something different every week!
S - OySake Night is on every Monday. $1 oysters and a special sake menu.
MP: What are your goals for 2014?
J - I’m happy with our accomplishment so far and I wish to continue to serve our community with great food. I can’t wait to meet more wonderful people and to share our love for food with people.
MP: What are your long-term goals for the business?
S - To still be here in Malden.
M - Have a larger group of guests so I can go a little bit crazy with the menu.
J - My long-term goal is to eventually open more restaurants. One dream is a make your own noodle bowl concept -- you choose a type of noodle, broth, meat, and vegetables. But right now I’m just focusing on Tornado.
MP: Do you hope to open more locations in Malden and/or other communities should you find success in Malden?
S - I do! I would love to open another restaurant in Malden with my two great partners.
MP: Do you plan to introduce other services in the future? Please explain.
J - We’re thinking of offering valet parking because of how hard it is for our customers to find parking. We offer parking reimbursement right now when customers park at any of the parking garages, but valet would be a nice service in the winter when it’s snowing out.
For more information, call 781-388-3988, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the restaurant's website.