Thriving cities depend on the adventurous among us, who alter the urban landscape when they forge their own successful paths.

Each month, we ask an influential San Diegan: What was it like for you in the beginning?

Su-Mei Yu

Owner,  Saffron,
Work: Mission Hills
How Long: 30 Years

October 19th, Mission Hills Thai restaurant Saffron celebrates 30 years in business. Owner Su-Mei Yu started Saffron Thai Grilled Chicken in 1985, then went on to open Saffron Noodles & Sate next door. Su-Mei is the author of several cookbooks and the star of Savor San Diego, now in its third season at KPBS.

What was the moment that propelled you to open your own business?
I had a bit of a mid-life crisis. I turned 40 and a nonprofit foundation I started had completed its mission, so I was at a loose end. There was a space on India Street available, and the property belonged to my companion. It was a combination of madness and epiphany that struck me to think I could actually start a restaurant — a business I knew nothing about the time.

What struggles did you face starting Saffron?
Introducing Thai cooking to San Diegans who had no clue what it was. Hot spicy foods were unfamiliar to most San Diegans back then. Eating rice was another challenge. People wanted bread!

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
Opening the sit-down restaurant selling noodles and other Thai dishes next to my original small take-out chicken restaurant.

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?
Saffron has been a blessing in my life. It opens the doors to so many experiences in my life. I am extremely humbled and grateful.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
I don’t know what normal is, since every experience is both normal and abnormal. It is a matter of your personal interpretation.

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?
Ability to connect with people with care, weather criticisms and trust your intuitions and be not afraid of making “mistakes” because they too are lessons, gifts to be learned.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
Blessings, Daring, “Good Tongue” Gift.