The Journey from M.I.T. Student to Chinese Food Restaurateur

Table Spread at Very Excellent Chinese Restaurant

In 2019, a doctoral candidate in aerospace engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology had a very excellent idea. After moving 100 miles north of Boston to take a breather from his studies, he saw an opportunity to “try something different” and opened a Chinese restaurant. No, this isn’t a made-for-tv movie plot. It’s the real life story of Hector Hsu, owner of Bristol, New Hampshire’s Very Excellent Chinese Restaurant.

And it turns out, his creative outlet not only gave him a chance to thrive, but helped add flavor to his local community.

Growing up in the United Kingdom and ethnically Chinese, Hsu had a unique perspective on Chinese cuisine, understanding there is room for authentic as well as Western interpretations. “I think it’s all delicious,” he said. And so he purposely doubled down on what he calls “American Chinese” food for the menu, with classics like General Tso’s chicken and Crab Rangoon. The latter is so popular, in fact, that many shifts require all hands on deck to keep up with demand. And though the restaurant’s name is supposed to be funny, Hsu and his staff strive to be very excellent at what they do.

two cooks filling crab rangoon

According to Hsu, the menu is purposely pared down to allow the chefs to focus on execution. Another point of difference: High quality ingredients. The restaurant also promotes sustainability through biodegradable packaging and investments in energy efficiency.

For Hsu, everything has been a balancing act, starting with the days in 2019 where he traveled between Boston and Bristol, working on both his studies and the restaurant, which opened in late 2019. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, shutting down indoor dining, Hsu feared an anti-Chinese backlash but instead the community rallied in support around the new and only Chinese food restaurant in town, and his takeout business thrived.

Hsu took the lockdown as an opportunity for permanent Bristol residency, and his team of about a dozen solidified very quickly. Talented Cantonese chefs mingled with local hires, and a community was built in and around the restaurant. “I always thought the food side would be really interesting,” he said, “but I never thought that the human side would be so rewarding.”

a spread of chinese dishes at Very Excellent Chinese Restaurant

Very Excellent has since established itself as a Bristol mainstay, with an active Facebook page and a budding Instagram following. Local response has been so good that Hsu is already considering nearby takeout-only outposts to serve a larger area. He’s also a member of the Bristol Economic Development Committee and has joined other organizations to continue community outreach. And, he recently collaborated with Basic Ingredients Bakery to create a dessert menu. Said Hsu: “We want to make the Bristol community more vibrant and help it grow.”

As for M.I.T., Hsu continues his postdoctoral research and path towards professorship while working on expansion plans for the business. Very excellent, indeed.

 

AUTHOR

AnnMarie Mattila

AnnMarie Mattila is a food writer, recipe developer and pastry chef based in New York. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies and sometimes eats cake for dinner. Follow her at www.annmariemattila.com.

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