you’ve lived in San Antonio for more than a New York minute, you’ve probably eaten at the tried-and-true Chinese restaurant on Broadway, just inside Loop 410. And if you’re one of Hsiu Yu’s regulars of decades’ standing, you’ve probably gotten acquainted with the family who established it in 1983 including the owners’ daughter, Charlin Sam-Yu Madellin, who has worked there as long as she can remember. When she says, “I grew up here,” during an interview at the restaurant, she means it literally not just in San Antonio but at the unassuming, comfort-Chinese eatery at 8338 Broadway. “I was running around here when I was 2 years old,” she says. That was the year her parents, John and Hsiu Yu, opened the restaurant, which specializes in Hunan- and Szechuan-style dishes.
As she grew, Madellin started helping out refilling glasses with water and tea, seating customers, bringing tickets for to-go orders to the kitchen and, once she was 17, waiting on tables. Despite the glamour of doing grown-up work at a young age, and the warm relationships with repeat customers, life wasn’t always easy for the restaurateurs’ child. “I felt I never got to have fun because I was always at work,” she says. “For safety reasons, my parents didn’t want me home alone, so I couldn’t play with my friends. Then, I felt let down. Now, I don’t regret anything.” Madellin didn’t expect to work at the restaurant after graduation from Churchill High School. She studied first at Texas A&M University, then at the University of Texas at San Antonio, from which she earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in marketing in 2007. Along the way, she worked at several big-box retailers, where she gravitated to customer service. “I’m a people person,” she says. “I’ve always liked dealing with the public. Retail businesses have different ways of delivering customer service, and it was good for me to see that.”
She first returned to work at the family business in 1998, when that year’s hundred-years flood caused enough damage to close the restaurant for a few months. “My mom said, ‘We’re thinking about reopening’ and asked me, ‘Do you think you could waitress?’” says Madellin. “I knew everything I could do payroll, pack take-out orders, wait on tables, help my mom with office stuff so I said yes.” The restaurant reopened cautiously with Madellin and one of her aunts as the only two waitresses, while customers trickled back in, and word-of-mouth spread that Hsiu Yu was back in business. Although she planned to become a pharmaceutical sales representative after college graduation, Madellin decided to stay with the restaurant. “My mom didn’t want me to leave,” she says, “and I respected their efforts to build the business.” The Yus had emigrated separately from Taiwan in 1971 and met seven years later at a restaurant where they both worked. Her father, a culinary-school graduate, “always wanted to open a restaurant of his own,” she says. “This was a realization of that dream.”
The restaurant has remained successful through new fashions in food and other challenges “because we’re still providing the same things — good food, a friendly atmosphere and great customer service.” Although the restaurant has employed other staff, Madellin’s father still runs the kitchen, her mother is in charge of the front of the house, and she helps out wherever needed. Two aunts have worked there, as has her older sister, Hope Morgan of McKinney, who still pitches in whenever she’s in town. Madellin has worked full time at the restaurant since 2004. One of her special responsibilities has been to make it “more technology-friendly.” She saw to it that Hsiu Yu got its own website, manages the restaurant’s Facebook page and posts updates and checks comments on Yelp, the review site.
She also enjoys eating out at all kinds of restaurants, comparing their service and scouting for new trends to add new items to Hsiu Yu’s menu, including this summer’s strawberry lemonade, already a hit with customers. “I consider bringing in new ideas part of my job,” she says. “My parents will consider just about anything if it’s reasonable, but they’re more likely to think, ‘Why change, if it’s working?’” Working with close family members has its pros and cons. On the good side, especially now that she and her husband, Sergio Madellin Jr., a partner in a construction company, are expecting their first child together in February, “It’s easier to be more flexible about your hours, like for a doctor’s appointment, because family are more understanding.” At the same time, because it’s a family business, her coworkers “always expect everyone to give 110 percent.” Although her parents have no immediate plans to retire, she does expect to continue working there, someday taking over for them. “That’s what we hope,” Madellin says, “that I’ll be ready to take the restaurant on from there.” She is trying to streamline its procedures to be more efficient, demanding less time of its principals. “I’m different from my parents’ generation,” she says. “I’m more free-spirited. I like to have more fun, and they don’t understand why I don’t want to work at the restaurant all the time.”
Looking back on her experience of growing up in San Antonio and at the restaurant, Madellin says, “Sometimes it was hard. San Antonio didn’t have many Asians, and I was usually the only Asian child in my class. Friends would ask questions about our culture, but non-friends made fun of me.” Teasing “made me embarrassed to be Asian,” she says. “Childhood can make you or break you, and that took a toll on me. In college and after, I learned to love being Asian and not be so hurt by the memories. I think it made me a better, stronger person because I learned that all people are different and not to judge them on that.” If the restaurant’s succession plan goes as expected, Madellin plans to enlist her own children’s help there. “It’s great that I was here in the business,” she says, “It taught me responsibility and helped build my character. All in all, it was a good thing, it taught me a lot of life lessons, and I’d like to pass those on to the next generation.”
CHARLIN SAM-YU MADELLIN
Occupation: Manager, Hsiu Yu restaurant.
Personal: Married with an 11-year-old stepdaughter and a baby on the way.
Why she’s a Role Model: Took what she learned from her college business studies and other jobs to help her parents continue and enhance their family business.
Her own role models: “My mother grew up very poor and not well-educated, but was determined to make a better life for herself. She moved here, worked hard and from nothing, she built a successful story and business. I look up to her.” She also cites her older sister, Hope Morgan of McKinney, “who is also a strong woman, mother of two wonderful, well-mannered boys. She has been successful in all her careers, starting from the bottom and working her way up.”
Best advice ever given: From her mother “Without hard work, you won’t get far; the amount of work you put in is the amount of happiness you’ll get back.”
Goals: “Being the best wife that I can be; taking on this business someday and making it even more successful, keeping our clientele by giving the best customer service and making my parents proud.”
Believes… “No matter what you choose and what mistakes you make, you can always change your life to make it better, and all those mistakes are life lessons you learn from.”
Dining favorites: Hsiu Yu’s kung pao chicken; sushi restaurants.
Favorite relaxation strategy: Watching TV (Grey’s Anatomy is her favorite), playing video games (God of War) and reading.
What she’s reading: Fresh off the Boat: A Memoir, by chef Eddie Huang; The Pregnancy Journal, by A. Christine Harris; and What to Expect when You’re Expecting, by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel.