It is Middlesbrough Restaurant Week and if you fancy a noodle delight then there is only place to go. Oodles. Owner, George, has been satisfying Middlesbrough’s noodle nutritional needs for fifteen years now and he shows no sign of slowing down.
He likes to keep the customers guessing does George, as you will read he prepares all fresh food and so the menu is a mystery until the actual day you eat. One thing is always consistent and that is the quality. You don’t stay around for fifteen years if you are not always satisfying the customer.
Here is my brief chat with the ever amiable George Ooi about Oodles and the second Middlesbrough Restaurant Week.
Q: We have just started Middlesbrough Restaurant Week 2015. Was it a success for you in its first year in 2014?
George Ooi: Yes it was. Obviously it was the first year so there were many things to learn from that but overall it has been successful in terms of people coming in and trying new things. That is the whole idea of restaurant week, the customers that do come in don’t only come in here but also they try food which they would not normally try, given the fact that the value for money was there and the offers. So I have got no complaints.
Q: What is your offer?
GO: A lot of people are offering 2 for 1 or a free course with 2 courses etc. We did that last year but not this year. We thought we would do something that has a little bit of a gambling element to it. We have got a spinning wheel and everyone that buys a large take out or sit in meal will get the chance to spin the wheel. And because our spring rolls are sought after throughout the whole of Teesside that is what we will be offering.
So the spinning wheel will have, One, Zero, Two, Zero, Three, Zero. So, if you get into the Three segment you get three spring rolls. Get the One segment you get one spring roll. If you get Zero you go away with nothing at all.
So, it is the same as offering a discount but this gives it a little more fun.
We know that irrespective of if people like spicy foods or not our spring rolls are one of the items everyone likes.
Q: That is a summer food, isn’t it?
GO: Yes it is. And they can take it away or sit down and eat it here. It is a value added. 20% discount is old hat we just wanted to try something different.
Q: You open through the day until 8pm. Do you get people in mainly for lunch and tea?
GO: Traditionally it is very much a lunchtime thing and an evening thing, for early tea. Or there are a lot of our customers who are catching an early show. What is becoming much more apparent now, people are going to the concerts in the Town Hall and maybe have a bite to eat 7-7.30pm. It suits them down to the ground. So, our clientele tends to be a little bit more polite than maybe takeaways that open later.
Q: Talking of your clientele, last year you told me about how some people travel a distance for your food.
GO: Recently we have got a couple who work for Barclays and they usually come at 3pm. So, the last few afternoons when they have come in I wondered why do they eat so late. They said it is because we come from Gateshead. Everyday. I don’t know whether they have business in town as well but they come in usually 2.30-3pm. That is a long way to come for noodles.
We do get the odd one that comes from quite far like Washington, Newcastle etc. They would say why don’t you open one up in Darlington or Newcastle? But one is enough. I am supposed to be winding down, not winding up.
Q: How many years have you been open, George?
GO: Fifteen years, February gone. It has flown by. The blink of an eye. Frightening. The older you get time passes much quicker, as you well know.
Q: A lot has changed in the past fifteen years.
GO: Yes, for the better. I think there can be too many pizza shops in the same block. The council want this to be a café environment in central Linthorpe Road so we need to offer complimentary eateries. It can be a fight between empty units and income that can be collected. But they are creating an environment where people will come up here because they have so much choice.
Q: It is interesting that you are talking about people coming from work before they go to a show. It is a change for the better that people don’t need to go home first from work for their tea. There are food places open.
GO: Yes there are places open now. They come straight from work to The Purple Pig, or here or wherever and have a quick bite. Because now most of the places do open during the day it makes it much more convenient. In the past it used to be everywhere closing at 2pm and then open again at 5pm etc. So, it is becoming a little bit more cosmopolitan compared to the big cities where they open throughout the day. You have obviously got your peak times and your trough times.
Q: I guess working habits are more flexible now as well.
GO: Yes, they are. It is all more flexible and also encourages people to say I’m not really hungry at 11.30am etc I might be hungry at 3pm, so I want to eat around that time which tends to be a much more bigger city type mentality. That gives people the choice.
We do get a lot of performers coming down here to eat. They are setting everything up during the day and then between 4 and 6 there is a lull and they want to grab something to eat. The Town Hall will say go to Oodles they are open all day. So, we do get people like Alan Carr or Paul Daniels coming here.
Q: That must be good.
GO: It is amazing.
Q: Apart from the spring rolls. I recall you saying that the menu changes all the time.
GO: All our menus are done by social media. I use a software called mail chimp. A lot of our customers go on the website and then have a chance to join the mailing list. When they join the mailing list they get the dishes sent to them by email or follow us by facebook or twitter. So, as the dishes change we update our social media. People don’t have to ring up, traditionally they would. They will have a favourite dish but we don’t know when we are going to cook that favourite dish as there is no rota for doing it. It depends on what we get fresh and that is the dish we will cook for that day. So, actually I can’t tell you now until tomorrow morning what is going to happen tomorrow. On facebook or twitter they can tap into it or they can send me a message on facebook and I can reply to it.
I think it is quite good and different. And people can check up from all over. Also it is fairly instant because on social media now everything is based on real time, everything is instantaneous. We still get the old fashioned one or two that ring up and there is nothing wrong with that.
Q: The mailing list points to you having an awful lot of repeat customers.
GO: About 80-85% of our customers are repeat. They will come two or there times a week. Some at the University come every other day. Also with a lot of new customers, if for example you take a portion back to your office, then you can check online what else is cooking. We also get a lot of corporate clients. We do a lot of deliveries on a Friday. People on RiversidePark, Teesdale. We go as far as Billingham. I think the furthest we have delivered to is one of our regulars at Wynyard.
We are the only restaurant or an eaterie where you actually don’t know what you are buying until you walk in here.
It does mean we cannot participate like many takeaways where people can order online through an App because they have a set menu. In our case it is constantly changing.
That amazes me after fifteen years that there are people coming in here, they have driven for a long way and they don’t know what they are buying until you tell them what it is.
Q: They obviously trust you and like the food here a lot.
GO: The trick is that your food has got to be consistently good. Our regular customers just think do I like it spicy today or don’t I like it spicy today? Am I going to have beef today or chicken?
I get customers coming in saying I don’t care what it is George, the spiciest one, I will have that. That is very weird for Middlesbrough.
Q: You were saying that Middlesbrough Restaurant Week is an opportunity to try something different. It sounds like your customers are the type of people up for that.
GO: All with no exception. Our customers eating habits are very cosmopolitan. Everyone that comes in here will be slightly adventurous. Look at our menu today it has unusual dishes on, people night know what they are. Most of our dishes won’t be found in a Chinese takeaway. The only you will know is by tasting it. It took me the first four years to educate people. We are there now. I hope anyway.
Middlesbrough Restaurant Week – Monday 13th – Sunday 19th July 2015