SORRY NOT SORRY
CHEF/OWNER KIM VU SAYS 'THANK YOU'
The owner of Sorry Not Sorry, Kim Vu, tells the story of how the bar was founded in the midst of COVID-19.
As we go into our second COVID-holiday season and I reflect on owning and operating this business, my one thought is this, thank you! For all of it. And yes, I’d do it again.
To give a brief history of how Sorry Not Sorry got here, I acquired this property in June 2018 when it was still operating as Freddy Smalls. After a whirlwind remodel of the entire space, we officially opened in August 2018 with only the interior space and front patio available to customers. Our 4,000 square-foot outdoor back patio was our parking lot. As a chef, I was proud to open my dream restaurant, Không Tên, where we cooked “New Vietnamese” – newly invented Vietnamese cuisine made with Californian Farmers Market ingredients in the flavor profile of my home country. It was upscale, intricate, a labor of love, and expensive as hell to run.
Back then, our space only held about 50 guests for dinner, and we mostly saw customers on weekends. Even though we were packed on weekends and received critical acclaim, it just wasn’t enough to pay our bills, and we sadly closed one year later. With the last of our funds, we remodeled again and reopened on September, Friday the 13th in 2019 as Sorry Not Sorry. How did we come up with that name? That’s a story for a different [time].
We owed everyone money, so we worked hard at curating an outstanding rosé wine list, making fresh juice craft cocktails at great prices, and providing entertainment most nights of the week. Things were starting to turn around, we were getting caught up on past due invoices, and right in the middle of our first brunch service in March 2020, we received orders to shut down. We would close…again.
The ensuing months were a whirlwind of trying to do takeout cocktails (didn’t work, lost money), applying and praying for PPP funds (we got it, and it lasted two seconds), and remodeling our back-parking lot into a Covid-safe, open air, back patio (with the last of our last money). We opened, again, on July 4th, 2020, with five months of back rent, a pile of unpaid vendor and utility bills, and our fingers (and toes) crossed.
My entire staff came back to work and helped me put this place together. We were cleaning, painting, gardening, assembling furniture, and doing everything we could to make this work. My entire 401K is wrapped up in this place, so if I wanted to ever send my kids to college, walking away was not an option. Things went…great! Our new expanded capacity allowed us to serve hundreds more guests than before. It was, however, four times as expensive to run as the original Sorry Not Sorry 1.0. We had to hire extra staff for table service and hosts for Covid check-ins, we had to invest in PPE and sanitation equipment, and with our new picnic tables we had to change from our bar food menu to new sit-down friendly entrees. Looking back, I am proud of all that my team did to make that re-opening happen.
After Summer 2020, we were looking forward to capitalizing on the holiday event season, with hopes that parties and events would get us out of debt, but sadly it wasn’t going to happen as the second surge of Covid cases was taking over, and the second shutdown orders came at the end of November 2020. Although we were closed, I went to work on marketing, administration, and getting to inbox zero (ha! Impossible!).
We re-opened in February 2021…again. This was projected to be the start of the Roaring 20’s and because we had made it this far, we were going to benefit. Well, what actually happened was: the great staffing shortage (people no-showing for their interviews), supply chain shortages (we couldn’t get Hawaiian Sweet Rolls or Dole Pineapple juice from Hawaii), and the great decline – sales are down from the peak in May/June 2021 industry wide by 50% if you’re lucky, and down by 80% if you’re not. After working so hard on hiring new staff and getting them trained, we had to cut shifts due to the downturn.
What’s next for Sorry Not Sorry? My observation is that the hospitality industry has changed permanently. Do you remember going out to eat and drink just for the sake of eating and drinking? What I have learned in our work-from-home era is that it is going to take a lot more than food and beverage to get people out of their houses, and so my team and I have embarked on an ambitious event schedule to provide our customers casual entertainment. Against the backdrop of our gorgeous indoor and outdoor spaces, our strong ass cocktails, and incredible staff we’re hoping you’ll join us for it.
Many people ask me how I can manage three hospitality locations while being a single mother to two elementary school-aged children. The first part of my answer is that I don’t sleep much. The second part of my answer is that I am well organized, I am laser-focused on productivity, and I don’t own a TV. But the real answer lies elsewhere. I was inspired decades ago by a woman who told me that if I felt tired of my work, or exhausted of managing my people, that I was too focused on myself, and not paying attention to all the gifts my customers and employees are giving me. To this very day, I have carried that message with me, and I am not only inspired by this message, but I am also energized by it. Although I give tremendously to my business, my customers, my employees, and my children; I receive so much more in return.
Thank you to my customers who give me money, compliments, and energy. Thank you to my managers Karli, Angie, Brandon, and Rory who execute my initiatives, give me feedback, and run the businesses very well. Thank you to our kitchen staff, Marco, Alexa, Teresa, and Flor who work tirelessly in a hot-ass kitchen making delicious food. Thank you to my bartenders Alie and Lisa who sling fantastic drinks and keep an eye on reducing waste like a hawk. Thank you to my servers Daisy, Maxwell, Jae, and Gabby who provide excellent customer service and develop relationships with their guests. Thank you to my hosts Lea and Michelle who have to deal with so many unruly guests while smiling and being polite. Thank you to our on-call staff, Esau, Liz, Vanessa, and Freddy to lending us a hand when we need it most. Thank you to all past employees for helping us get here today.
Thank you for your time, energy, effort, and money. I am exhilarated by all of it.
With deep gratitude,
Sorry Not Sorry is located at 11520 W. Pico in West L.A. Call (424) 832-7000.
Photography Courtesy Of: Sorry Not Sorry