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November 21, 2009

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Queen of restaurants

ZHANG Lan, the founder of the South Beauty restaurant chain, is known for her straightforwardness and generosity.

"In my dictionary, there is no word like failure. One only loses when one thinks he loses, that's why I've never lost once in my life," says 50-something Zhang firmly.

However, behind her smile lies struggle and pain. A Beijing native, Zhang worked in a state-owned company before she decided to visit Canada in 1989. She stayed for two years, working 16 hours a day in a Chinese restaurant to save enough to finance her dreams.

She returned to open her first restaurant in Beijing. "Chinese cuisine always had everything, nutritionally and taste-wise, but what was lacking was packaging," Zhang says. "For example, Chinese restaurants in Chinese towns are often shabby and dirty. Even if their food is delicious, their decor and environment are of low level in the local community."

This inspired the birth of her South Beauty chain of restaurants in 2000, which are known for their luxury oriental chic as well as their spicy Sichuan-style cuisine. Unlike many Chinese restaurant owners who care more about recipes and raw materials, Zhang spends lavishly on the decoration and style of her restaurants.

"Call me a workaholic. Perhaps I was born with such a strong body to afford all this, and I do enjoy working for my own career," she concludes. "Let me tell you my secret. Spring for a woman will come again once she overcomes her menopause with a strong body. Trust me, it really works."


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