Jane Ewe remembers going home to Malaysia when she was about 12. She’d been living in the U.S. for three years, and, even though her mother was a chef at a Thai-Malaysian restaurant in Atlanta, Ewe had a craving she could not satisfy in her adopted city.
“When I went back to Malaysia — no joke, one sitting — I downed six plates of tossed noodles,” Ewe said. The noodle hawker was shocked to have such a voracious young client.
When her mother, Amy Wong, and her father’s brother, Howie Ewe, opened Food Terminal on Buford Highway in 2017, Atlantans had a similar response to their Malaysian-inspired comfort dishes. They couldn’t get enough of the grandma barbecue pork, six-hour braised beef, or the Cheese’N Cheese: a killer mix of tomato-braised fried rice, egg, smoked bacon, grilled Spam, colorful veggies and the namesake ingredients — cheddar and mozzarella — all stirred together tableside on a sizzling hot plate.
It was such a success that the entrepreneurial family — owners of six Sweet Hut bakeries and partner-owners in three Top Spice restaurants around Atlanta — added a second Food Terminal in west Midtown in late 2019.
Then came the pandemic, and everything slowed down.
“In the beginning, it was very, very hard,” said Ewe, 30, a Georgia Tech grad with a degree in chemical engineering, who, along with her sister Rachel, helps manage the family’s restaurants. “At its worst, sales was like 5 percent, barely, of what it used to be. It was really scary."
The family kept the Chamblee Food Terminal open for takeout, but closed the Marietta Street store for about two months, which gave it time to implement some new products and processes.
Now, customers can purchase and pay using a single platform: the restaurant website. This applies to dine-in, takeout and delivery. For sit-down guests, it eliminates the need for physical menus, and minimizes staff interaction.
However, the automated feature hasn’t been as popular as Ewe envisioned. “You’d be surprised how many customers still prefer not to do that, and just have a server serve them," she said. (I suspect customers who opt to go back to restaurants during a pandemic do so, in part, because they crave human interaction.)
Food Terminal also introduced a greatest hits collection of $7.95 frozen meals (available from the Chamblee location only), and partnered with a new delivery service, Roadie, which will carry food as far as 100 miles.
With these improvements, Food Terminal has been able to bring its sales back to about 60 percent of the pre-pandemic figure.
Meanwhile, Sweet Hut has made some changes, too. Previously, customers used tongs to place pastries on a tray, which a cashier would then ring up and wrap; now, everything is pre-packaged. This ensures the food is hygienic, hastens checkout, and helps the baked goods stay fresher longer.
Ewe may be a company exec, but, when she wants her morning latte with cheese foam and a Portuguese egg tart, it’s how she rolls. “I place an order, and, when I get there, it’s ready. I’m like, ‘Thanks, guys. Have a good day.’”
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What I ordered: tossed noodles with six-hour beef; nasi lemak with curry fried chicken; Cheese’N Cheese; wonton soup. I picked up my order at the west Midtown store, and it was the takeout of my dreams — nicely packaged, truly delicious.
Service options: dine-in, takeout or delivery via ChowNow, UberEats, DoorDash and Roadie
Safety protocols: follows standard CDC guidelines
Address, phone: 5000 Buford Highway NE, Chamblee; 678-353-6110. 1000 Marietta St. NW, Atlanta; 404-500-2695
Hours: 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
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