Peppered with American paraphernalia such as a NY number plate, and Yankees baseball and flag, it’s been just over six months since PJ’s Steaks opened on Boundary Street in West End and the quirky restaurant is still going strong.
Uncle and nephew duo PJ Chang and James Chung have done the near impossible with a start-up – they broke even in the first month. But they both attest that this is solely because of their unique product offering. Back in 2000, PJ first tried the incredible cheesesteak, which originated from Philadelphia on the east coast of America. “From the first mouthful, I was really intrigued by it because I’ve never tasted anything like it before. It’s a combination of every guy’s favourite foods – meat and cheese. It’s just simple dude food that tastes good,” owner PJ Chang said.
Since his first encounter with Philly cheesesteak, PJ scoured the globe trying to locate the best spot to bring this authentic flavour. From Europe to Asia to New Zealand, PJ finally decided on Australia. “Aussies really love their meat and they are also renowned for it, so I knew they would appreciate it. But the main thing is that there is nothing like it here; it’s really different,” PJ said.
In 2006, PJ came to Australia to do market research and then migrated from Korea in 2008. He continued to do more background research on how to set up the business. While it was PJ’s dream to bring American food to the people of Brisbane, it was his nephew James who helped with the finer details to pull it all together.
“I knew what I wanted as the big picture, but James worked out all the details,” said PJ.
James finally moved from America a year and a half ago, and the pair started planning. “We chose West End because there is a lot of diversity here but it’s not as crazy as Fortitude Valley! West End has an eclectic mix of people, with hippies, professionals and the wealthy. We feel we have a unique offering of food that appeals to a broad range of people,” said James.
PJ and James both laughed when asked if starting up a business cost more than they have originally anticipated. “Absolutely, it did! There was so much that we hadn’t properly accounted for and if there’s one thing to count on, it’s that even if you’ve planned out everything to the last detail, something will crop up that will throw you for a loop if you don’t have spare cash,” PJ said.
“This was a big factor in us choosing to rent our equipment, rather than outlay the huge cost up front. Plus we hadn’t tried Australian equipment before so we weren’t sure how it was going to go. It was better for us to try the equipment first, to make sure it was right for us and our business, and then we could buy or upgrade later on,” PJ explained.
With 81 restaurants from West End alone on Urban Spoon, the boys at PJ’s Steaks are pretty chuffed to be currently ranked at number 13.“It’s our goal to make top 7 though! Once we’ve achieved that, I’ll really feel like we’ve made it!” PJ said.
“When I see people enjoying my food, it makes me really happy.”
PJ and James both agree that having a unique product has really helped in their success.“I think there’s something like 5 Greek kebab shops in this street alone! My advice to others is to tap into a niche market with your own speciality and you’ll find it much easier to survive,” PJ said.