Meet a Maker - Sue Chin
Everyone appreciates dining out in a beautiful setting, but that really means nothing if the food and service leave you never wanting to return. Fortunately, some of our prettiest spaces in Orlando also keep the bar high when it comes to the quality of the food and the overall display of hospitality.
Three of those spaces are owned by local husband and wife duo Jason and Sue Chin. Sue, who is a talented and seasoned designer, is known among many other duties for creating these beautiful spaces, including the very popular sitting room at Reyes Mezcaleria. Evidence of her handy work and keen eye for detail can be seen all over Reyes, down to the hand painted-details on the floors.
A little back story: Sue worked as a server at the family’s original Seito location in Winter Park, and that is where she met her now-husband, Jason, who was washing dishes and learning how to make sushi. Seven years later, after attending Full Sail and working for a local theme park design group, she got in contact with the family again and began dating Jason. After they were married she quit her job to help with the Seito location in Baldwin Park that they eventually took full ownership of.
Sue saw things that could be improved from a design perspective and eventually they undertook an expansion to the space that she was able to design and execute thanks to her background in commercial design.
As the couple traveled they always saw concepts they wished existed in Orlando. That’s where the dreams to open Osprey Tavern began.
Not long after Osprey opened in Baldwin Park, they opened their third concept, Reyes Mezcaleria, a delicious spot serving Mexican fare which is one of my personal favorites in town. The busy couple (also parents) now run three restaurants and a popular annual culinary festival in Baldwin Park.
Sue is a woman of many talents and she wears a variety of hats, so I sat down with her at Seito in Baldwin Park to learn more about her and one of the most photographed rooms in Orlando.
LH: How has the need to capture the places we go, especially restaurants, changed your design process and marketing strategy?
SC: “Aesthetic has really become everything. With the newer generation, I think they are smarter than ever before and they know good food, and good value, but they still want that atmosphere. Decor is important, and I’m much more timeless over trendy, but it means nothing without good food. You are really looking to strike a fine balance where everything comes together. We try to instill in our management to look at every detail, make sure the restaurant is presentable and take full ownership of it.
Marketing has definitely changed because nowadays there are so many media outlets, bloggers, and media dines. However, we find that we prefer a personal approach to finding people organically. We don’t try to be trendy, but instead we want people to feel comfortable. We prefer to focus on events that are an experience that allow a creative outlet for chefs that bring everyone together.”
LH: Did you expect the response of the sitting room in Reyes?
SC: “No! Not at all! It took me by surprise, but it never gets old to see how people respond to it. It was a low-budget design project. I did a lot of antique hunting, refurnishing, and shopping at thrift stores. I wanted to keep it eclectic. We’ve now had wedding shoots in that space and HDTV even filmed something showcasing our spaces. It’s been so nice to see the reaction.”
LH: When it comes to restaurant design, what are your three big no-nos?
SC: “Picking out materials is really important especially in high traffic areas. For instance selecting tile over carpet. You have to think about long-term maintenance.
If you have a lot of windows you need fabric and furniture to control the sound so it doesn’t bounce around. The same goes for the textiles and furniture. Wood tables versus plastic, all that contributes to sound levels.
I also learned you can’t have a totally open kitchen. It sounds cool because you get to see the action, but you have keep the sound in.
The flow is really important, for instance how the servers drop their dish. The dish pit should be centralized and server point of service stations need to be evenly spread out.”
LH: The Beard in Baldwin event you host each year is becoming well-known, especially for those in the industry. How did that come about and what is your goal in continuing it?
SC: “When we first started thinking about it, we saw so much talent in Orlando and we wanted to throw a party to celebrate that. James Beard didn’t even come here, so we really wanted to create something to catch their attention. We took our Osprey team to the James Beard House to cook and told them about our event. They said they would send someone to see the event and they were blown away by it.
Each year it has gotten bigger and better, and we’ve brought chefs from out of town to participate. It’s a good place to showcase local culinary talent, local musical talent, and put a spotlight on Orlando.
It’s also nice that after the event, chefs and owners hang out which is something we never get to do. Restaurant people rarely go out to eat, so to get everyone together is so nice.”
LH: You travel a lot for food. What’s your favorite foodie vacation city?
SC: “Chicago. We go there every year. There are so many places to try. So much is done right there.”
LH: What are your favorite local spots?
SC: “We try not to go to the same place twice so we can try more, but we go to The Strand and Dovecote a lot. The Strand is our low-key place to enjoy. We love Lam’s Garden and Korea House as well. Also, King Cajun is so good. I don’t know what they do to their shrimp but it’s so delicious.”
LH: What is your advice for someone looking to get into design work?
“Even if you aren’t getting paid, create something and showcase what you can do to a potential client. For some people in the design world, your background and where you went to school doesn’t mean much.
Try something new, design and sketch and get a portfolio of what can you do, it doesn’t need to be paid work. In several interviews I conducted there was a lack of a portfolio from people that had the education.
Also, learn Photoshop! I use it everyday, it’s such a useful tool.”
You can visit any three of Sue and Jason’s concepts in Orlando for great food and serious design inspiration, and follow their accounts for appetizing menu information.