I’ll let you in on a secret: the best way to gauge the authenticity of the food at a Chinese restaurant is to simply order the beef noodle soup. That is, if it’s even on the menu. Beef noodle soup is a very popular Chinese dish served in restaurants and in households. Each restaurant chef has his (or her) recipe, just as each family has their own way of making it. Whether it’s made in spicy Szechuan style filled with swimming peppercorns and chilis; or Chinese halal style with clear broth and no soy sauce; or sometimes made with tastier beef tendons that melt in your mouth… this noodle dish can satisfy even the pickiest palates and hardiest of appetites.
In the outskirts of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, in the lesser known city of Cary, people have been flocking to Taipei 101 for a taste of traditional Chinese and Taiwanese foods. The restaurant opened in February 2011 by Wen-Kai Ho and has received several good reviews, such as this one from Triangle.com:
The list of authentic Chinese appetizers leans to Szechuan fare, with options such as bamboo shoots with chile sauce and steamed pork with Szechuan garlic sauce. Spicy sliced beef, tendon and tripe is served cold, but delivers plenty of heat in the form of chiles and Szechuan peppercorns.
A less daring, but nonetheless bracing option is oyster soup with pickled mustard, one of half a dozen authentic Chinese soups served for two. Serving up a bounty of plump bivalves in a translucent, briny broth that sparkles with slivers of ginger and finely chopped pickled mustard, it’s refreshing even on a sweltering summer night.
When it comes to entrees, the Taiwanese-style pork cutlet with veggies over rice is a must. The cutlet is in fact a succulent, lightly battered bone-in chop, with emerald-green Shanghai bok choy heading up an exotic supporting cast.
(Oh yes, the pork cutlet rice should rival the beef noodle soup on the Taiwanese Food Authenticity Meter. Pardon me while I wipe the drool off my shiny Apple Wireless Keyboard.)
Restauranteur Wen-Kai Ho didn’t graduate from a culinary school, but he does have a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Long before the debut of Taipei 101, Mr. Ho founded SimpliCTI Software Solutions 15 years ago in the basement of his home. He still serves as CEO of the CTI software company.
A Chinese CTI entrepreneur with a talent for cooking? That’s like a niche within a niche.
The startup journey of Mr. Ho mirrors closely with other self-funded entrepreneurs. He was employed by a big corporation (Nortel) early in his career and worked on many large complex projects. Then one day, realizing no end in sight of corporate politics and red tape, he decided that he could do better working for himself. As an immigrant, he decided to grab the American dream by its slippery horns and set up shop in the basement.
He didn’t expect to sit in the basement for four months staring at a idle phone, though. Eventually he landed an important first project with a major international company, and since then SimpliCTI has grown into a multi-million dollar private company with nearly 40 employees (and just only a handful in sales). And no longer a basement operation.
Mr. Ho determined early on that in order for SimpliCTI to succeed it must enter into multiple partnerships and offer valuable products that fill the gap between the plethora of CTI, CRM, and middleware systems in the market. This vision has bode well for the company — SimpliCTI boasts a product portfolio in the ecosystems of Avaya/Nortel, Cisco, Genesys, SAP, Salesforce.com, Onyx, Remedy, RightNow, and Tellme (Microsoft). In recent years the company has seen tremendous interest and growth in its “connector” products.
Another secret to SimpliCTI’s success, according to Mr. Ho, is the location. Situated near The Triangle and the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, many of SimpliCTI’s workforce come from graduates of the university. The company has no problem attracting engineering talent locally.
But most importantly, Mr. Ho revealed the real secret to his success: family. And not to mean just his wife and daughters. He sees all his SimpliCTI employees as part of his family. The same goes for his restaurant workers and even customers. Mr. Ho said that he has had to reject buyout offers because the new investors would’ve laid off employees. Even now he frequently receives calls and meeting requests from investors and VCs interested in owning SimpliCTI.
He hasn’t found the right suitor yet, but I imagine many of the conversations may take place around a small table full of delightful Chinese dishes. Beef noodle soup is a must, of course.