We had the good fortune of connecting with Ajay Hira and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ajay, how do you think about risk?
We approach risk as methodical as possible while keeping lines of communication with our instinct and heart wide open. To us, we see risk as a dance. Is it worth it? Can we do something better than the option we have? What will it cost? Is this even a cost or is this an investment? Constantly, we assess the risk and the environment, and we adapt. Covid-19 was a reminder of the unpredictable nature of being a business owner and another test for how we handle risk. Back in March last year, when the lockdown began, we immediately put our heads together and thought about our risk appetite and how to adapt, while keeping our employees, our guests, our friends, and our families safe.
Considering all the difficulties our Los Angeles Community was experiencing back in March, we were deeply committed to doing everything in our power to keep our doors open, keep our team and community safe and serve our guests. If we can make someone’s quarantine just a tad bit more bearable, by getting them high quality food, safely and efficiently, we’ll do it! We saw our meals as a way to remind people that we’re here for them and we’re not going to let anything stop us from serving them. So, we committed to staying open in this time of huge uncertainty, how do we mitigate the risk? The more obvious risks, like Covid-19, had the more obvious answers, stay ahead of the spread by staying up to date with the data, follow guidance from the experts and setup safety protocols before they were even mandatory. The less obvious risks, like what is our burn rate in a Covid environment and the possibility of running out of cash, proved a much more challenging equation. What we’ve learned over the years, is it’s important to consider zagging when others are zigging. We opened our first business (a Dessert Restaurant) in the midst of the global financial crisis 10 years ago, when businesses were closing left and right. We had virtually no competitors in the recession, that business thrived as results, and we never forgot that lesson. So instead of saving our cash, we invested it. We spent money on banners to tell people we’re still open, we focused on digital/social media, and we added notes with encouraging thank you messages and essential items, like a roll of toilet paper, to customer orders. We also invested in improvements to our restaurant layout, to increase the efficiency of delivery and take-out.
Instead of squirreling our money away, we spent it, we zagged. And as great as it all sounds, I think it’s important to look at it from two perspectives. The first, as a passionate business owner, my mentality is, if we’re going down, we’re going down swinging and giving. Always finding a way to give through the thick and thin is literally in our business plan here at Jesse Boy. But the second perspective, as a strategic business owner, was an acknowledgment that this is one of those moments where the right decision financially and intrinsically, were somehow, one in the same. When competing businesses shut their doors, we no longer saw ourselves as taking their customers, we inherited a community that became, overnight, underserved.
And it was now the right thing morally, to invest in ourselves, and serve as many people as we could. What’s interesting is, as we assessed the risk throughout the pandemic, we realized the most important risk was not financial, it was reputational. We realized that every step we took, additional safety precautions, thoughtful notes, staying positive around customers when Covid cases were at their peak, we built upon a social contract with our customers. Every time they order our food or visit our restaurant is another stipulation in that contract, and every customer relationship is one we want to grow into a bond. Whether it’s a financial crisis or a global pandemic, managing the risk when others won’t, zagging for our customers, has really defined my businesses. And it speaks true with our mission statement: We reserve the right to provide good vibes!
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
To me Jesse Boy is more than just a restaurant. It’s an experience. It’s a place where you are left feeling even better than when you entered. Yes, we pride ourselves in serving fresh, high quality food that uses locally grown ingredients and is cooked to the perfect ratio of crispy to juicy. We also offer Vegan and Vegetarian Korean Fried Cauliflower dishes that are prepared in a dedicated fryer, alongside our Korean Fried Chicken. Why? Because guests of all diets are welcome and included here. Not to mention, we have the best Fried Chicken sandwich in Los Angeles! Think buttery Brioche Bun, some house-made Coleslaw, with some homemade Aioli sauce and hand-torched Cheese. That’s some ooey gooey yumminess right there. But what really differentiates us is our dedication to serving our guests by leading with our heart. By giving back to our community every chance that we get, by making sure that our team is treated like family, we get to shape our world the way we want, the way we’d like it to be. This is why I got into business in the first place. I always thought to myself, “when I make it big, I’m giving back to the world, I’m helping those who could use an extra hand.” Like many others, I figured that when I’m all set in my life is when I can help others in their lives in an impactful way. But that isn’t the case at all. We found a way to both do business and give back. We do it by holding fundraiser pop-up events for local non-profit organizations, dedicating our grand openings to and having in-store fundraisers for Children’s Hospital and local schools. As a result, we have been able to raise over $40,000 for Children’s Hospitals in California! I feel very blessed in many ways because I love food, music, art and people. And Jesse Boy is a venture that supports in connecting all that I love in one awesome space.
I studied Electronic Engineering in college and 13 years ago I decided Engineering is my hobby. Being an entrepreneur is my passion. Connecting with others, being in front of people, creating a fun atmosphere and being kind, all while sharing about something you love is my definition of entrepreneur. And as I journeyed along to find the businesses for me, I realized that it’s not what business I’m doing, it’s who I’m doing it with. My business partners created a space for me to shine with my strengths and I hold the same space for them. I am super grateful for what each one of them brings to the team. They are all so talented in their trade. And Jesse Boy wouldn’t be where it is today without them. It wasn’t easy and there are times where we may not see eye to eye, so I remind myself, it’s because we care and ultimately, we want the same thing. I’ve learned so much along the way. I would have to say the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to set my ego aside. To ask myself, am I leading with frustration or with my heart? What I perceive is what I reflect, and this is a practice that has helped me get through those tough times. As a team, we have had our wins and we have had our losses, like closing two separate businesses. But these losses are what makes our bond stronger. When taking the L, some people get discouraged and some people get hungry. Consider us the latter.
The most important thing is, we are here, and we are still standing. As long as we can stand to face another day, nothing can stop the Jesse Boy Crew. And to have a motivator like giving back to the people of our community and making a difference for the kids (our future) is what Jesse Boy is about. The reason I want to create even more success for myself is so that I can continue to give. The more we grow, the more we give. And this is who I am. This is who I will always be.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Whenever friends or family come out to visit LA, I steer clear of most tourist traps and stick to the LA I know. Starting with the pickup from the airport, depending on the time of day, its either a trip to In-N-Out or if it’s a late arrival time, BCD Tofu house in Koreatown is my jam. Typically, the night-life starts with a stroll through Chapman Plaza with some soju at Quarters Korean bbq. I like to start somewhere central, like Koreatown, so we have a range of bar options and cater to the mood of the group. If we’re in the mood for whiskey, we can head east to Seven Grand in downtown, if we’re looking for some solid EDM with lots of space to dance, Exchange LA it is, and if we want a rooftop and music, we can head to EPLP in West Hollywood. Late night munchies are an inevitability in my outings, and my go-to is the baseball steak at Pacific Dining car, it’s one of the best and tastiest deals in town.
During the day, no trip to LA is complete without the obligatory pics of the Urban Lights at LACMA and taking a walk down Melrose to see all the little shops and boutiques. Just as important as those landmarks of course is the famous LA taco truck. There are, of course, hundreds to choose from, but my favorite is Leo’s tacos on La Brea and Venice. Their al pastor is still one of the best around.
I make it a point to attend at least a handful of Lakers and Clippers games every year, and a trip to Staples Center is an important stop in any guest’s LA adventure. After we take in a basketball game, the post-game meal would either be French dip sandwiches at Phillipe’s or carne asada tortas at El Taurino in Korea Town. Two of my top 3 sandwiches in LA. Rounding out the three is Langer’s Delicatessen, but this depends on the guest. For my east coast friends and family, I may steer clear, because I’m about 1000% certain we’ll get into a “best pastrami in the US” argument. For everyone else, it’s a must. And to complete the visit we would take a night hike up to the Griffith Observatory and I always tell my friends and family if you really want to see LA’s heart beat, this is where you’ll not only see it but you’ll be inspired by it. Being born and raised in LA, I wouldn’t live, breathe and eat it any other way.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are times in life when we get hit so hard that you start to look at who will be there when nothing around you makes sense. The world had changed around us due to Covid-19 and we had to make a choice of whether we were going to let that world change us or were we going to be the change for our world. Coming into the restaurant during this trying time, it felt like we were this tight-knit little family that people came to visit to get a little hope, to get a little light, to feel like we’re gonna get through this together. And it was only easy to give that type of energy because our team believed it. Our team deserves all the credit in the world. They’ve put in the time, effort and dedication to allow our business to thrive during Covid. We’ve had more changes and challenges in the past year than the previous 3 years combined. As owners, there’s only so much we can do to set the tone. There’s an element of self-motivation, perseverance and leadership that our staff has, that allowed us to pivot to meet the challenges like the pandemic and helped us get to where we are today and, to be quite honest, through our whole Jesse Boy journey. Our team steps up and steps in whenever it is needed, and I appreciate them so much.
I would also like to dedicate this shoutout to our parents. If it weren’t for our parent’s sacrificing their family life and immigrating to a country that they had a bleak idea about, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Always being there, feeling our hardships and celebrating our wins with us is what helps keep us going. They have sacrificed so much to keep our best interests in mind. Our parents have taught us to always blaze a trail, to bring everyone with us, to lend a hand when someone needs it the most, and to stay persistent in the face of anything. Thank you.
Other: We have a new Ghost Kitchen Location in Mid-City! Check us out on Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/3s5s8ztw