Kevin Yu: Proud Taiwanese Founder of Chicago's 2d Restaurant and Recipient of the Global Young Entrepreneur Stars Award
Kevin Yu, the founder of 2d Restaurant in Chicago, has been honored as one of the 2023 Global Young Entrepreneur Stars. He stands as the sole recipient in the expansive Midwest region of the United States, a remarkable accolade indeed.
Kevin Yu was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and later moved to the United States with his family at the age of sixteen. He pursued a business major in college. Ten years after graduating, he achieved the distinction of becoming the youngest store manager at Macy's Department Store in the United States, overseeing 186 employees. Approaching his thirties, he contemplated his future trajectory, yearning for fresh challenges and a greater impact on the community. However, he found himself constrained by the company's existing structure, impeding the realization of his ambitions. After seeking advice from senior contacts in Taiwan and exploring various business prospects, Kevin resolved to alter his career trajectory, eventually departing from Macy's at the end of 2014.
Diligently studying various markets and businesses, he sought insights from a successful friend who had established a Japanese ramen shop in Seattle. Driven by this inspiration, he resolved to concentrate on the Asian cuisine market and began his entrepreneurial venture with the launch of a Japanese ramen shop in Chicago.
The store, funded by two supportive aunts drawn to his determined attitude, opened on the north side of Chicago in 2016. However, in its inaugural year, the turnover only reached 60% of the initial estimate. Determined to improve, Kevin actively sought guidance from experienced mentors, attentively listened to customer feedback, and bolstered standard operating procedure (SOP) training for staff to establish impeccable quality benchmarks.
Subsequently, his dedication yielded results as he secured the top position among all ramen shops in Chicago. Over the years, the annual performance consistently grew by 25%, culminating in the realization of his envisioned objectives by 2019. The initial four years served as a valuable learning process, during which he remained committed to community engagement and giving back to the local neighborhood.
Amid the 2020 pandemic, Kevin Yu spearheaded fundraising efforts and generously donated over 1,600 warm meals to local hospitals in Chicago. Each meal was meticulously prepared by Kevin and his dedicated team, personally delivered by Kevin himself to the hospitals.
Having achieved his goal in 2020, he began contemplating his next steps. Reflecting on his career, he spent the first decade at Macy's with immense efforts to assimilate into mainstream American society. However, in 2020, he embarked on a deeper exploration of his own identity. Recognizing the abundant resources in Taiwan, he realized the inherent value of his roots and wanted to further tap into it.
Kevin's wife specializes in architecture and interior design, so they frequently engage in all kinds of constructive conversations. The challenging period during the 2020 pandemic brought them even closer. They envisioned together the creation of a restaurant that resembles a unique sanctuary. They called it "2d Restaurant", for they constructed a virtual two-dimensional world with visual effects that alleviated strain and fostered tranquility, providing a temporary respite from everyday worries and stress. After conceptualizing 7 or 8 plans, they meticulously selected one and utilized computer software to craft two 3D architectural renderings before finalizing the design—a process that spanned 24 months.
In terms of food items offered, they incorporated well-established Asian options, such as Japanese mochi donuts, Vietnamese coffee, and various Taiwanese delicacies. Notably, the Taiwanese Chicken Burger garnered exceptional acclaim from Chicago Tribune connoisseurs upon tasting, subsequently earning high praise and recognition from the newspaper, solidifying its status as a signature dish at 2d Restaurant.
Undoubtedly, the restaurant's distinct monochromatic visual theme, complemented by a delectable range of Taiwanese cuisine, has propelled it to prominence within the fiercely competitive landscape of the Chicago restaurant scene, securing the prestigious 'Best of Chicago' accolade in 2022 and firmly establishing its position.
Kevin has always been mindful of environmental considerations. During the design of 2d Restaurant, he repurposed old wooden benches that would have otherwise been discarded during the renovation of a local community church. Salvaging the wood, he reimagined and refurbished the pieces, incorporating them into the current decor of 2d Restaurant. While the use of these tables and chairs incurred higher costs, their eco-friendliness reflects his commitment to sustainability, making the efforts worthwhile. He is also contemplating a complete transition to environmentally friendly tableware.
Staying true to his foundational principles, Kevin actively engages with and contributes to the local community. 2d Restaurant hosts six to ten community events every month, including one-on-one career planning sessions with local youth, mochi dessert-making workshops for children, and support for fundraising initiatives in neighboring primary schools.
2d Restaurant has forged strategic business partnerships with the Chicago Bulls, Broadway, and the largest animation company in the United States. Kevin's focus remains on further cultivating collaborations with diverse companies and communities, introducing innovative cuisine that embodies Taiwanese culture, and spreading the charm of Taiwan across the entire United States.
Reflecting on his experience of winning the award, Kevin Yu eagerly shares his journey with fellow overseas Taiwanese. He emphasizes the diversity of life paths and the boundless potential of the future. His deep pride in his Taiwanese upbringing is evident in the values he has integrated, including humility and community-centric approaches. From these values, he has cultivated his own restaurant empire in the United States. Post-award, he received invaluable professional advice from Taiwanese industry experts, particularly beneficial in terms of capital utilization and financial analysis. He hopes to get to know more people and obtain more resources and information through the award ceremony.
In an exclusive interview, Kevin Yu expressed his eagerness to share his experience with fellow overseas Taiwanese.
Minister Chia-Ching Hsu of the Overseas Community Affairs Council presented the "Global Young Entrepreneur Stars" certificate to Kevin Yu.
Kevin Yu and his youngest son took a photo with Director Tsai Ji-ying (back left) and Deputy Director Huang Shi-cong (back right) of the Culture Center of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Chicago.
OCAC Minister Chia-Ching Hsu (middle in the front row), Director General Dennis Yen-Feng Lei of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Chicago (fourth from right), Kevin Yu (third from right) took a photo with fellow young overseas Taiwanese.
Kevin Yu accepted an exclusive interview with Wang Fu-tang, a news volunteer from the OCAC digital news. He hopes to get to know more people and obtain more resources and information through the awards ceremony.