Chris “Ludacris” Bridges purchased his 5,170 square-foot property in Downtown Atlanta for $2.7 million with no intentions of opening an Asian fusion restaurant. The entertainer/entrepreneur was just looking to rent the space out and collect a check. But after meeting Chef Chris Yeo at a Ludacris Foundation event, the Singaporean cuisine enthusiasts partnered and opened Straits Atlanta in 2007. While most restaurants fail within their first year of business, Straits, which specializes in unique dishes like Yeo’s signature Kung Pao chicken lollipops, has thrived over the past four years.
In addition to the restaurant, Ludacris stays busy with numerous ventures including his Conjure liquor brand, Soul by Ludacris headphones and his recently announce collaboration with 10-year-old daughter, Karma’s World, an educational Website for kids. Currently appearing alongside Oscar-winner Hillary Swank in the all-star cast film, New Year’s Eve, Ludacris sat down with BlackEnterprise.com to discuss how he cooked up success as a restaurateur.
How did you decide on Singaporean cuisine being the basis of your restaurant’s menu?
Man, it’s some of my favorite food and I never want to be typical. People think if I open a restaurant that it’s automatically going to be soul food. I love to throw curve balls to people all the time; I love to be different, I strive for excellence. Atlanta is just one of these places where it’s a melting pot when it comes to so many different cultures and styles, and I just wanted to play towards that because people appreciate good food and with a little bit of an ethnic twist to it.
How did you get introduced to Singaporean cuisine?
Just traveling all over the world and, like I said, taking some of my personal experiences and things that I love and bringing them to the city that I love and I partnered with someone who has a love and interest for [it as well]. My business partner [Chef Yeo] and I met at a foundation event so we both had that in common and got to talking and one thing led to another and we decided to go ahead and do this restaurant here in Atlanta, GA.
How involved in the menu are you?
We’ve been through so many changes with it from where we first started out, but I’m definitely involved in that. Every chance I get when I’m in town I try to stop by and make sure I shake hands and greet people and make sure they liked the food, get some feedback from people.
Straits Atlanta has been in business for over four years now, how do you feel about the restaurant’s success?
It’s coming to the point where it’s a staple in Atlanta, GA and I’m just very proud of that. We have different nights where we have a live band and we have a Tuesday night [event] we’ve had going on for three years now which is basically an industry elite kind of trendsetter’s night and I’m just very happy. We have repeat customers and we have people who just love the food and they love the atmosphere and they love the ambiance.
Do you have any advice for aspiring restaurateurs?
Just have your heart in it. Don’t think that you’re not going to have to put work in and be there every day. Having a restaurant is something that you have to be 100% invested in and it’s important that you look at your location and know your neighborhood. It’s definitely one of the those things where to stay afloat you might have to change the menu up a couple times to make sure you’re getting it to your customers’ liking… It’s just one of those things where you have to be 100% invested in it.
Although you’re originally from Chicago, you’re music career blossomed while in Atlanta. How does it feel having a Black-owned business in the city and contributing to the local economy?
For the past four years of me having this restaurant it’s pretty much been some of the greatest years of my life and I love, love, love it. I love to be able to provide a service for people in a city that I’m passionate about. So it warms my heart every time I go there and I see people enjoying this restaurant… So many different things can happen on a grander scale because I am definitely the owner of the building. So it feels good to have a piece of Atlanta downtown real estate.