21 years ago, a waiter at a Gainesville restaurant created a business plan for the restaurant he was working at. It was turned down by the owner.
That business plan was the foundation of Dragonfly, a modern Japanese pub, or izakaya. And that waiter was Hiro Leung, who now operates three Dragonfly locations across Florida.
With his business plan and the last of his mother’s savings, Hiro opened up a small restaurant in 2000. He told himself that it was just a way to get by until he found a “real job”.
But with a fear of stagnating and the desire for continued growth, he put all his efforts into the business. Anytime the business was making money, Hiro was looking to expand. First it was buying more space, then expanding to Orlando, and finally opening a third restaurant in Miami.
The next phase of growth for Hiro is finding passionate, driven people to take care of the tasks he’s not good at.
But you can still find him washing dishes when the need arises. Hiro isn’t afraid to show his team that he’s human or work alongside them. He pairs empathy and trust with clear expectations for his team.
“It’s so important to really connect with them. If you do find a good dishwasher who’s accountable and responsible, I don’t care if I pay them the most in the kitchen.”
The culture of empathy within the Dragonfly restaurants became clear at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hiro’s staff came up with ways to feed people who were struggling with grocery packages, delivery meals, and more. This was a shining example of what Hiro calls ‘living culture’ – not just a set of ideals on a piece of paper, but what your team believes in their hearts.
It also shines in the customer experience at Dragonfly. People wait up to 2 hours to eat at Dragonfly not because of the product, but because of the feeling that it gives them.
“No one says I’m gonna need to eat some sushi today… [They come because they’re feeling something.] ‘I feel like I love that girl. I’m gonna take her out on a date and I want to show her the best time so maybe she’ll be my wife one day.’ That’s a feeling and our job is to deliver that.”