Irene Li

Irene Li: A Little Sister with Big Ambition

By Andre Lafontant

Boston, MA — Combining a commitment to locally-sourced, sustainable food and a willingness to adapt within the restaurant industry Irene Li co-founded Mei Mei — or ‘little sister’ in Chinese — with her older siblings Margaret and Andy.

The trio began Mei Mei as a food truck in 2012, becoming the first of its kind in the Boston area to serve locally raised and sustainable food. Since then, Irene has taken on the responsibility of the day-to-day business operations and now focuses solely upon the brick and mortar aspects of her company.

“My number one responsibility is developing a succession plan to grow my business,” she explained. “I started the Open Book Management Initiative to educate everyone in the company about how business finance works.

Irene’s initiative includes a nine-month curriculum of weekly classes for employees to learn about good business practices. From there, Irene empowers her employees to take initiative beyond their given job titles in order to sustain the overall health of the business.

“Once a month, we meet as a whole team and review the periodic financial statement,” she said. “Based on that, we have the team take on different initiatives.”

Irene’s inclusive and invested approach fosters a level of engagement that brings her work family that much closer. Ultimately, once the business reaches a profit threshold, Irene wishes to establish profit sharing that will further fortify the commitment of her staff.

Irene stated, ”I got to the point where I was looking at my employees wondering what’s going to happen when my sous chef wants to buy a house. I know what I pay her and it’s not going to happen unless I can do something better for her. I really believe that Open Book has the potential to transform this industry. If we want independent restaurants to eat at in 20 years, something about the employee model has to change.”

While Irene is looking to trailblaze new paths within her industry, she is consistently cognizant of where she started and how that may help women that look like her begin their entrepreneurial journey.

“I think it is easy [for food entrepreneurs] to get distracted by what their restaurant is going to look like or what the menu is going to have on it and not really be thinking about what their finances look like…it doesn’t matter how much people love the product if the business isn’t healthy.”

Irene Li will serve as a Millennial Mindset Panelist at the SOLD OUT Women of Color Leadership and Empowerment Conference hosted by State Street Corp on Friday, June 22nd, 2018.