by Susie Zimmermann
Meet Doris Lim, Co-owner of Spices…
As a young midwife from Malaysia, Doris Lim came to the U.S. to travel. She met a man at Kyoko, a restaurant in Cleveland Park where Spices is today. “He became my husband, and that changed my life forever.”
Before Spices, Doris worked in several Asian restaurants in the District, most of them in Cleveland Park, including Kyoko and Ivy Place, which was next to the fire station. She also owned another restaurant, Melati, an Indonesian and Malaysian restaurant near the Cleveland Park Metro, where her mother helped with the cooking.
Soon, though, Doris joined her sister Vanessa and other partners at Spices, which she has co-owned with them for the last 24 years. Doris leaves the food preparation to her talented chefs, Sammy (at the sushi bar) and Ming (in the kitchen) saying, “I have too much respect for the work they do to interfere with them!” But one favorite dish on the menu, the Curry Laksa, has special significance for Doris’ family. “It’s made from my mother’s recipe.”
Staff and Customers Like Family
Doris has seen generations of customers come through her doors. “I know several couples who I met while they were dating and then I watched as they got married, had children and their children have grown up,” she recalls. “That is one of the most fulfilling aspects of our work. My staff and I become friends with our guests, and we share our lives together.”
Doris feels the same way about her staff. “Many of our staff come to us as young people, and sometimes Spices is their first job. It’s a real honor to watch them grow and mature, and then see them go to college and to have careers. Many of them come back with their families to eat here. I feel very connected to our team, and some of them have worked here nearly as long as I have.”
For Oyun, one of Spices’ long-time waitresses, Spices was her first job when she came to the U.S., and she has stayed at the restaurant for 18 years. “I love my Spices!” she says. “They are my second family.” She credits Spices for enabling her to raise her daughter, who is now enrolled at George Washington University.
Talking with Doris for just a few minutes and one immediately senses her pride in the restaurant and her warmth toward her customers and her staff. But the restaurant business is hard work, and has not always been easy. “I lost a lot of time with my daughter as she was growing up,” Doris recalls. “It’s my only regret that I had to miss a lot of her activities because I had to work so much.” Now, though, Doris swells with pride in speaking of her daughter, now a college graduate working with Ernst & Young in Florida.
Cleveland Park Makes The Hard Work Worth It
Seeing restaurants and other businesses close in Cleveland Park in the last few years reflects for Doris the challenge of the restaurant business today. “The neighborhood feels the same, but the customer traffic has changed, probably, in part, to the growth in the number of restaurant choices throughout the District and the changing demographics of the Cleveland Park neighborhood. It’s caused us to think creatively about how we reach out to the community. Because there are many new options for customers to choose from, we emphasize the importance of well-prepared food, a friendly staff and our proximity in the neighborhood.”
In spite of the challenges, Doris considers Cleveland Park her work home. “It’s the kind of neighborhood that everyone wants to live and work in. The newly reopened Library will be an anchor for continued growth in the neighborhood. I’m sure the new Target will also be a magnet for new business.
“Cleveland Park engenders a strong sense of community among the residents but also among the business owners. We are a cohesive group that works together to support each other and the community. A talented business owner can do a lot here.”
For Doris, the challenges of running a business today are offset by offering a great product, utilizing good marketing and working hard. “The incredibly loyal customers who come week after week, and year after year, to your business offset the challenges, too. When I walk out into the dining room, I see so many friends and familiar faces!”