NYC Restaurant Owner Michelle Morgan Serving Up Dishes Inspired By Her Asian Heritage

Tiger Lily Kitchen Owner Michelle Morgan | by Lily Brown MST Creative PR

If there was one industry that was hit the hardest during the COVID quarantine periods of 2020, it was hospitality. Restaurant and cafe owners’ business was essentially brought to a halt, and it impacted their customers and communities. For many restauranteurs, it meant closing their doors for good, or finding a new path forward. Essentially, a pivot. The latter is what restaurant owner and manager Michelle Morgan was able to do.

After the restaurant she was managing in New York City closed in the summer of 2020 due to the pandemic, hospitality management veteran Michelle Morgan (ex Beauty & Essex, Paris Café) took the plunge and started her own food business. Tiger Lily Kitchen, a delivery and takeout only restaurant offering health-conscious Asian dishes, launched in December 2020, working out of the kitchen of another pandemic-closed restaurant in Gramercy.

Although she’s never worked as a chef, Michelle grew up in NYC’s Chinatown going to Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian restaurants and learned to cook from her Hong Kong-born mother. Drawing from these inspirations and experiences, she developed healthy recipes: all the dishes are gluten free and many are vegan, including favorites like Vegan Mushroom Pho; Peanut Street Noodles; Lemongrass Chicken and Koji Marinated Salmon, plus beverages based on fresh juices and herbs. To make the experience more unique and memorable, she uses Instagram-friendly colorful and playful stickers with Tiger Lily Kitchen’s name and logo elements applied to the containers that stand out from other delivery places.

Tiger Lily Kitchen’s fresh, vibrant food and vibe have been so successful that Michelle is currently working on opening a brick and mortar location this spring! So we took the opportunity to chat with Michelle about her restaurant business, working in the industry during COVID, and what it means to embrace her Asian heritage through food.

Tiger Lily Kitchen Winter Dishes | by Lily Brown MST Creative PR

Tell us first how Tiger Lily Kitchen was launched and what made you want to open your own restaurant? 

Tiger Lily Kitchen was born out of my love of cooking and it was made a reality after I lost my job when COVID-19 hit and the restaurant I was managing closed permanently. After that happened, I took some time off and found myself cooking every day, which gave me the inspiration to start my own business in spite of all the uncertainty. I knew that this was a chance to start working on my passion project.

When COVID-19 hit, you pivoted. Can you talk us through that pivot process, and any feelings you had to process knowing what was happening in the world? 

After I lost my job,I realized that if there was an opportunity to change my life path, it was now, so I decided to pivot and launch my own business in New York City. I created Tiger Lily Kitchen during COVID-19 as a pickup and delivery business because that addressed a need when indoor dining wasn’t allowed and wouldn’t be in the near future. I was confident in starting Tiger Lily Kitchen during that time because delivery and pickup were becoming so vital.  

You have seen so much success, yet you have never worked as a chef! Can you tell us where most of your training love of food came from? 

Although I have never done time in a professional kitchen, I have been extremely passionate about cooking and have also taken culinary classes. My love of food started at a young age with my mother teaching me how to cook and then I got captivated by the Food Network and watching The Barefoot Contessa. I began my career in the restaurant industry when I was 17 and I have always loved this world. 

Tiger Lily Kitchen Delivery Packages | by Tiger Lily Kitchen

How have you embraced your Asian heritage through your food and business? 

The brand and the food are all part of my Asian heritage as I have brought in elements of various dishes and cooking techniques that I grew up with and created my own spin on the recipes. I was raised in NYC’s Chinatown going to Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian restaurants and learned to cook from my Hong Kong born mother. I found inspiration in these experiences to create my healthy recipes which are all gluten free and many are vegan as well. 

As a woman of color in a very male-dominated industry, what are some of the hurdles you’ve faced throughout your career so far? 

Thankfully, I have been blessed with male mentors that have always supported me and helped me. I have never really had to face the same hurdles that my fellow women of color have had to endure.

How can food be used as a tool to break down barriers, racist stereotypes and encourage more empathy toward others who are different to us? 

Food is something that all people have in common. The only way to make a great meal better is to share and enjoy it with other people. I am looking forward to helping bring back the communal dining experience, and with that bring back New Yorkers socializing together again and talking over food.

How would you encourage other female restaurateurs right now who are dealing with COVID-related issues and looking for a way forward with their business? 

For any female restaurateur dealing with the rollercoaster of COVID-19, I would encourage them to be adaptable to the market that we are in now. Times have changed and you must move and adjust to those changes. I would also say to be open to multiple revenue streams, ideas and opportunities that you may have turned your back on pre-COVID.   

Who are the women who inspire you? 

My mother inspires me because she is a strong, educated woman with a heart of gold. She is originally from Hong Kong and is an amazing cook and the food that she made for us growing up also inspired the dishes that I offer at Tiger Lily Kitchen. 

Tiger Lily Kitchen Build Your Own Plate | by Tiger Lily Kitchen

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