Yupha McGonagill, owner of Song Phi Nong in Houma, spoke at the August Businesswomen’s Alliance luncheon about her experiences leading her to entrepreneurship.
She was born in Thailand and raised by her grandparents where she said she helped care for her family’s water buffaloes who helped pull the plow in their rice fields. She and her brother came to the United States to join her family when she was eight years old. She said it was “an adventure” because they didn’t speak English and grew up without running water or electricity. She praised her experience of hosting in the community and said the teachers were amazing. She remembered that her mother was growing vegetables in the garden because the area did not have the necessary produce for their Thai cuisine. She remembered when the Thai population started to grow in the area where people exchanged and shared the food needed to prepare traditional Thai cuisine. His brother eventually returned to Thailand, realizing the United States was not for him.
Fast forward to her early 30s, where she said she was at a crossroads. She had years of general management experience at a local retail store, but she wanted to find her niche. The restaurant was an idea that came from a relative who had a restaurant in New Orleans. She said she was a dropout with no savings and borrowed from her parents and her 401K just to survive. She said she was literally floundering in a quarter-life crisis. She said she decided to invest in herself and took the risk: “I knew it was very clear that you didn’t own a restaurant; the restaurant is yours. She said that with financial help from her mother, advice from TEDA and advice from Synergy Bank, she started planning. They found the current location for rent, and Song Phi Nong was born.
McGonagill said each day was a challenge as the area was familiar with Chinese food, but not Thai food. She said she questioned herself for the first two years. She said she started with two cooks in the kitchen helping her along with three waiters. Meanwhile, her husband already had his job, so she was alone during the days and constantly wondering how she was going to get by. What helped her was a book she read that described a J business model, where the business starts at the top, where the J begins. J, but ultimately, it would take a repeat that represents the curve of J.
McGonagill said she learned three things from the J business model: having a good product, having the right people around you who will help you be successful and grow with more continuous growth. She said she had never received different treatment because she was Asian American, but received it because she is a female business owner. She has experience where a salesperson would come over to talk about a sale and ask to speak to her husband for him, but she laughed and said, “I tell them I make all the decisions anyway, so you can talk to me. “
McGonagill also bragged about retaining her staff and the importance of supporting staff and providing them with opportunities for growth. She said her staff, on average, were with them six years per person. Retention is important to her, “if you treat people well,” she said, “they will believe in you, trust you and continue to help you grow.”
McGonagill also spoke about her experience through the COVID pandemic. She said, unfortunately, due to the fact that she was a small business and couldn’t afford the proper benefits for her employees, she knew she had to do something to help them get through the lockdown. March 17. She was grateful to TEDA with other resources that enabled her to support her staff during difficult times. “We have a single mother who does not have the support of others to raise her child, she did not have any allowances, so we were able to help her continue to take care of her child”, a- she declared.
She also announced that the restaurant will move to a new location that will allow outdoor space and grow herbs. The new location will be at 719 Corporate Drive and will allow them to continue to grow their business. She said, “We will continue to grow and be better people. We hope to offer something different to the community.
Featured photo by Tyler Duplantis