Where in the world is Tim Ma? He might be stuck in traffic.
The busy chef now has four restaurants—two in Virginia (Chase the Submarine and Water & Wall) and two in D.C. (Kyirisan and Ten Tigers Parlour). It adds up to a lot of driving. On a busy Monday morning, Ma was heading from D.C. to Virginia to pick up some supplies from his favorite Chinese market.
“I just got to D.C. And, now I’m going to Virginia. Then, I need to stop by Kyirisan, and it’s back to Ten Tigers,” he says. “So far, no traffic.”
If you try to reach Ma these days, chances are you’ll find him in the kitchen or on his phone. The rush picked up just as his deli, Chase the Submarine, hit its one year anniversary.
But somehow, Ma took the time to celebrate. This was an anniversary that felt near and dear to his heart, he says. Chase the Submarine is located in Ma’s hometown of Vienna, Virginia, and it’s his only fast-casual concept.
Another reason: His family was there to celebrate, and with cake for the restaurant’s namesake, Ma’s son Chase.
For this busy chef, and dad, running a small restaurant group is more than just business, it’s a family affair. We caught up with Ma to learn more about his busy year and what’s ahead for year two.
Q: So, you guys hit your one year mark back in November, right?
TM: Yup, we had a cute little birthday cake with Chase the Submarine on it. My son Chase was also there. He just kind of hung out during the lunch hour. This was very much his day.
Q: Tell me more about that. You named the restaurant after your son, why was that?
TM: It’s named after our middle son Chase, and we did that because usually the middle child gets overlooked. You know the oldest gets everything, and the youngest gets all the attention. So that’s why we named this restaurant after him. It’s in Vienna, which is also where we live. From the start, we wanted this place to be a family thing. My three kids go there all the time. It’s a nice little thing that we did for our family and in the community where we live.
Q: You have your hands full between your family and the restaurants that you're running. Talk to me about work-life balance?
TM: Well, so... I do a lot of driving, and I have a really good core team around me. That includes my wife, Joey. The shop is also managed by the same person who runs Water & Wall in Arlington. Usually, I’m in D.C. running Kyirisan and making sure Ten Tigers can get off the ground. Joey, my wife, is between the sub shop and Water & Wall too. It’s been tough, but we make it work. I now understand why people cluster restaurants around each other in close proximity. It’s tougher when you’re so spread out between Virginia and D.C.
Q: Talk to me about the dynamic of working alongside your wife and family?
TM: We are two different personalities. We run things very differently, and I would like to think that the combination of skill sets tends to balance each of us out. At the same time, we’re evenly divided on the work. We’re running four restaurants, or concepts, and we also have three kids. So it’s not just us. Our parents are involved in our personal and professional life too. For example, this week as we are launching Ten Tigers, Joey is at home with the kids, and my parents are actually with me in the kitchen helping me with the dumplings.
TM: Yeah, it’s not just the immediate family that’s involved. It’s any part of my family that can help.
Q: Take me back to November. Why is Chase the Subs so unique to some of your other restaurants?
TM: This was our first foray into a fast-casual concept, and it felt completely different from running a restaurant. Actually, I think it’s difficult to go from a restaurant to a fast casual. For one, the costs can be easier to control in a restaurant. When I walk into the sandwich shop, I try to make everything like I would at Kyirisan. That’s not always ideal because you have to find efficiencies to make it work on price. But, I still want to provide the craft of food that you would find in my restaurant. Hopefully, that’s reflective in the product. For example, our sauerkraut doesn’t come from a bag. It’s sauerkraut that’s made in-house and fermented weekly.
For the one year, there was actually a really unique moment that I can easily remember. We had Chase in the restaurant, and we had this big anniversary party and promotion. I guess it worked because we were swamped with customers. I went into the kitchen and worked the line, like I used to. And, Chase was running around the dining room, literally talking to all the customers... He was the front-of-house, and it was fantastic. I think a lot of people loved it. He’s very outgoing. He was telling people that it was his birthday. It was very cute, and I really enjoyed being back on the line.
Q: What’s your favorite sandwich there?
TM: That’s an easy one. We are doing a new sandwich, called the beef and cheddar. And, I made this sandwich because I love the Arby’s version of it. The beef is brined and roasted in-house, but when you look at it, you know it’s something nostalgic too. It’s somewhere between nostalgia and high craft.
Q: How important is the community to you?
TM: Obviously, we have a lot of connections to the neighborhood. People still remember us as the Maple Avenue owners. This [Vienna, Virginia] is a really tight knit community. We already knew this area quite well, but it’s been kind of a slow build. That’s just how it is. We’re measuring success over the course of several years, not just one. We want to slowly grow into the community. Right now, we are working with the surrounding churches, schools, and civic groups to earn that right. Our goal is to become a part of the community fabric.
Q: You had quite a year, opening two new restaurants in D.C. For the year ahead, is there any slowing down?
TM: It’s been a hectic year. 2016 has been insane. We opened Chase, Kyirisan, and Ten Tigers in about 13 months. I’d like to think that as a restaurant group, we are going to stabilize. Me, my staff, and my family all need it. I am always looking for new projects, but they take a long time to come to fruition. For now, I think it’s about getting a foothold in our new restaurants and developing the business at a gradual and slow build. Hopefully with Chase the Subs, we get to a point at which the fast casual is replicable. But, we’ll wait and see.