I know Shannelle Lim from way back in the day. Growing up in early high school our paths would sometimes cross around town, but since having boyhood crushes on her friends and going to the local Westfield in droves of youths, until recently, we hadn’t spoken in close to a decade.
That’s why I was so surprised to see her drive past me on a bus one afternoon in the Sydney CBD. Not her behind the wheel or by the window – Shannelle and her husband Uel were literally plastered to the side of the bus on a huge poster, promoting the then latest season of Australia’s premier cooking reality TV show, My Kitchen Rules.
Incredible, I thought. I tuned in and watched the couple on and off throughout the season and would be lying if I said that they weren’t a big part of why I followed the program that year (although I still don’t fully understand the format). On camera they were earnest and kind and garnered a following of supporters who labelled them the “competition’s sweetest couple”, with Uel being an expert at dad jokes to boot. How would that not make for great television?
What was amazing about watching Shannelle and Uel on my television was just that – the idea that this was Shannelle. This was ‘Ess’, as I knew her, from circa 2004. I made a mental note to reach out to the couple after the show had died down to hear about their experience. But since their time on MKR, they’ve gone on to open their very own restaurant, Kin By Us, at 2 Saunders Close, Macquarie Park.
Asking them questions about their new restaurant and the story behind it seemed like a much more enlightening conversation to have than asking them about their time on Channel 7.
Here’s what they had to say about their journey starting Kin By Us…
Tell me about Kin By Us…
Our restaurant Kin By Us is aimed to be a brunch place with Asian flavours. We want to incorporate the flavours that we know and love into a setting that is homely, comfortable and familiar. We hope that we can expose Australians to some classic Asian breakfast dishes such as congee and kaya toast, and expand their views on the classic brunch offerings.
You were both social workers before opening the space Kin By Us, has it been hard to make the transition?
Yeah, we were both youth workers for the local church. We’re still largely involved now but it’s definitely been hard to do everything together. It’s what we’re passionate about. We lead youth and young adults and it’s something we love so we wouldn’t abandon it.
The cafe is, I guess, just another part of what we do.
You were on a previous season of My Kitchen Rules. How did this help to shape your dream to open up a restaurant? Did it push you to hurry things along or would you have always ended up here?
MKR was a crazy whirlwind, for sure. It taught us a lot, and gave us that extra push to make running our own business a reality. It was always something we joked and dreamed about, but MKR gave us an incredible platform to bounce upon. We’re not sure if we would have ended up here without it.
It gave us courage and an insight into how much hard work would be involved.
Tell me about the moment you both knew that opening Kin By Us was a definite and not just a dream.
When My Kitchen Rules wrapped up for us, we had a few ideas about what we could do with it all, but it was never something that transformed into a reality. We let go of the idea for a few months but in September last year we were sitting in a little cafe in Chatswood and thought that if we weren’t going to do it now we never would. For the first time we felt a peace about it, and when we started looking for a place, this spot in Macquarie Park came to attention very quickly. We loved the open space and the area and were excited about the prospects.
What is the concept behind Kin By Us?
When we started dreaming about this space, we knew we had to do something a little different and reflect our heritage and things we love into this new place.
The concept is a homely and comfortable environment, with the familiar flavours of home for the Australian Asian demographic, and also something new and exciting for everyone. We’ve mixed a lot of traditional “looking” breakfast dishes and put our own twist and spin to them. We hope that it can be a space that feels like home and is comfortable for everyone.
How much of your individual personalities are in the restaurant?
We had a huge part to play in the making of every dish down to the decorations and plates and furniture, etc. We wanted it to reflect who we are as Australian born Chinese, and have it look like a cafe from a distance, but have those Asian flairs close up. The dishes themselves reflect some of our favourite foods too. Uel loves anything with crackling and anything deep-fried, so the chicken crackle rice dish is definitely his favourite. He has gotten really creative with the names of the dishes too, and we want that humour and fun to come through in many ways.
What do you want people to experience when they visit? Why?
We make it a big push that people would feel at home here. Food is secondary at the end of the day to the service you offer, and the ability to come into a place and feel like you belong and that people accept and love you. We hope the food simply complements that service, with delicious flavours and comforting dishes.
We see a lot of people challenging themselves to try new things and loving it, and that’s been a great thing to see.
If people seem to be enjoying themselves and the whole experience, our job is well done.
What advice could you give to someone who might want to do the same thing that you guys have done? How would you convince them to get up the courage to take that leap of faith?
Our advice would be to push through the tough times. Things might take slower than you think, or be harder at times than what you expect, but perseverance is key. Know that even if things seem like they’re not going the way you thought, that it will work out. For us, we had a couple of delays, but at the end of the day that gave us time to really find the right people and fine tune our food and coffee, so it all works out!
It’s always going to be scary and a huge risk, but if you don’t try you’ll never know what might have become of it. It’s easier to stay comfortable and do what you know, but the adventure is exciting and worth it.