It’s difficult to make sense of the unravelling of MissChu. What was, for a short while, Sydney’s go-to Vietnamese restaurant will now be renamed, reopened and reinvigorated but not as we have known it. And not with Nahji Chu.
The restaurant first opened in Darlinghurst in 2009, drawing in crowds with its lanterns and street-food-style dining. The self-identified tuckshop quickly expanded, opening stores in Bondi and Melbourne, and it had plans to open in London. But because of a series of fraught relationships with managers, and the general mismanagement of funds, the store went into [voluntary administration] (https://www.broadsheet.com.au/sydney/food-and-drink/article/misschu-goes-voluntary-administration) last year; the MissChu name at that stage remained, and Chu was kept on as the businesses creative director. Now the NSW stores have undergone a complete rebranding; there are different recipes and new owners. The Glebe, Bondi, Darlinghurst and CBD restaurants will reopen as Saigon Lane on December 5. Owner of Bali’s Saigon Street Aki Kotzamichalis has taken over the venues. Some MissChu dishes will remain on the menu along with dishes from Saigon Street. Interior designer Alex Zabotto-Bentley updated the interiors.
Broadsheet spoke with Chu in April 2015 about what her plans were post-voluntary administration. At the time, Chu promised that she would go into direct competition with the purchasers of MissChu. Instead the buy back by insolvency company Mawson Group appointed Chu as the creative director in May 2015. At first hopeful in her new position, Chu says she had little to no influence over any of the company’s creative choices.
“I was in the position of creative director, and yet I wasn’t given anything to do. Every time I submitted work it [was] rejected, to the point where I was just going crazy. The original and unique voice that was MisssChu had disappeared,” says Chu.
Chu says while in the position she was explicitly told she couldn’t use the MissChu brand as a platform for political conversations about refugees. While she respected this Chu says, “That doesn’t mean that I can’t be a refugee ambassador as Nahji Chu, that’s a personal project.”
So, after 10 months of “completely being ignored by Mawson Group”, and noticing a decline in the quality of the produce and recipes at Miss Chu, it was a call from Marie Claire in March this year that Chu believes led to her departure.
Seeking to celebrate the impact refugees have had on their communities, Marie Claire proposed photographing Chu in front of the MissChu shop in Bondi. Although she was at first hesitant – because of the strict instructions from Mawson – Chu agreed to the photoshoot. The day after the shoot she was dismissed from her position as creative director.
After nine months and a huge legal battle for unfair dismissal, Chu finally feels vindicated. She was paid out, no longer has any involvement with MissChu, nor any hard feelings towards Mawson Group. Rather, Chu is looking to the future and putting all of her energy into her two new ventures: a traditional Vietnamese restaurant with a modern French fit-out called Cocochine, an ode to the history of Vietnamese-French cuisine. And a fast-food restaurant, Cocochu. Both are slated to open in Sydney in March 2017.
Determined to keep on rolling, Chu says that after all the ups and downs, “I’m relieved that it’s rebranding. I wish Saigon Lane well as another brand because now I can feel like MissChu Sydney can be left alone, well my namesake, anyway.”
Mawson Group was contacted for a comment did not respond.