The story of my new company (and new sauce) starts with my dad. His story is a textbook American dream. Chinese but born and raised in Kolkata, India, he and his nine siblings grew up in a rather humble economic environment. At age 13 he started working to help the family—in a tannery, as a shoemaker, and then in a restaurant, where he found his passion. He came to America in 1980 with one suitcase, a few dollars, and an incredible work ethic.
Once in the U.S., he worked as a dishwasher in a small Chinese restaurant. Although he had restaurant training in India, the style of cooking (and the produce!) was different in America. Nevertheless, he did every job with pride and enthusiasm and quickly worked his way up to head chef. When his mentor, Tom, opened his own restaurant, my dad went to work for him. Luckily, the woman who Tom bought the restaurant from was helping with the transition—and she and my dad fell in love and got married!
My mom and dad worked tirelessly with hopes of eventually opening their own restaurant. After a few years of 80-hour workweeks, they were able to do just that. For nearly three decades, my parents owned and operated their own restaurant, Szechuan Garden, in Parlin, New Jersey. My dad's passion for food led him to create a number of dishes that made him locally famous, including this sauce. I'm not exaggerating when I say that almost every other day, someone would ask for the sauce recipe, but my dad remained tight-lipped.
My brother and I grew up in the restaurant. We spent many afternoons doing homework at the corner table or playing Nintendo while my parents worked, and we even learned to ride our bikes in the back parking lot. I went to college and started my own career, but I still spent every weekend working there. When my husband and I decided to go back to graduate school, I kept thinking about how everyone wanted to know my dad’s recipes, and in my capstone class, I wrote my business plan for Liao’s Food. At the time, we didn’t pursue it because I was pregnant with my first child. A few years later, my parents sold the restaurant, and I had a second baby on the way. When customers ran into my dad, they would still ask about his recipes and if they could buy his sauce. I knew then that it was the right time to move forward with Liao’s Food. It was an opportunity to build on my dad’s hard work, his legacy, and create something that could be shared with so many more people.
My dad has been working since he was a kid. It's all he knows, and he does it out of a drive to take care of his family. Even now, in his 60s, my dad can't not work. He sold his restaurant to take it easy, yet he still works 6 days a week, 10 hours a day, standing nearly the entire time.
I love my dad. He's sacrificed so much so that my brother and I could lead better lives. Teaching me his sauce recipe and mentoring and coaching me throughout all of this are just a few of the many ways he shows his love. I want this to be successful for so many reasons, but above all else, I want it for him. —Diana Liao Andes