Q&A: Shuet Han Tsui, Fidget & Bob

Despite having no direct experience of running a food business, at the end of 2017 Shuet Han Tsui made the now-or-never decision to take over a café site on Kennet Island with her business partner Breege Brennan, and Fidget & Bob was born. Prior to that she had worked in engineering manufacturing and start-up finance. Two and a half years later, Fidget & Bob is still standing: given their aching feet, that’s a lot more than can be said for its owners. Pictured below is the mighty Henry, Fidget & Bob’s instantly recognisable mascot who is famous for his regular appearances on social media.

Fidget & Bob continues to trade during lockdown, selling food and coffee to take away along with bread, fruit and veg, local beer and other provisions.

What are you missing most while we’re all in lockdown?
The 11 day break we had scheduled for Easter.

What’s your earliest memory of food?
Congee, often described as a rice porridge. Chicken congee is my go to comfort food.

You spend six days a week working in very close proximity to Breege. How do you avoid falling out, and what advice do you have for people currently spending more time than usual with their loved ones?
Carve out a little oasis of calm and personal space to ‘be alone’. Don’t be afraid to be voice what is bothering you or if the other person has pissed you off (it happens). Hear it out. Exercise your right to reply, but then move on quickly. Don’t brood.

We both take a lead on different things. While we are in the loop with everything going on, we crack on with our own jobs. Major decisions are discussed and fleshed out, but it isn’t possible to have joint decisions or consensus on everything. If we can’t agree, sometimes we have to defer to the other and hope for the best. If I’m proven right all along, it is desirable not to gloat (for too long). 

You famously won’t tell people where the name Fidget & Bob came from. What’s the funniest guess you’ve heard?
Oddly, people always focus on nouns. That interests me: the words might be verbs. We joke that it’s like the secret of Coca-Cola – but it’s really not. And now, it’s become this thing – so we daren’t say, as it’s almost, well… boring. One lovely American customer seemed determined to find the answer, and each time she visited, gave us a different explanation, one of which was naughty.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
This is clearly impossible to answer, so I’ll say that the ‘meal’ I always want to eat is Cantonese dim sum. Alas, this is no longer available in Reading. If I don’t fancy it, then all is lost. The last good dim sum meal I had was in a restaurant called Banquet in Colchester.

What is your most unappealing habit?
When I lose my temper I go deathly quiet, with a big dose of FO-vibes.

Where will you go for your first meal out after lockdown?
The Lyndhurst because I love good pub restaurants. I have wanted to go since it re-opened under new management, but getting there is tricky because of the hours we work. With the dark COVID-19 cloud looming over the hospitality industry, there is no time to waste. Places we’ve been meaning to go to literally may not open again.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Kung Fu Panda.

What’s your favourite thing about Reading?
Something I’ve always appreciated, but even more so in the last few weeks: the indie scene. We support each other and help where we can. There is no sense that we are ‘competitors’. Ultimately, we understand how hard it is to run a business. We all benefit from a strong indie scene.

How do you relax?
Vodka tonic (ratio 4:1), TV, messing on the laptop, packet of crisps. All at the same time.

Fidget & Bob is so good at social media: what are your top three social media tips?
1. Your presence should be authentic and consistent. Don’t just log on because you ‘want’ something.

2. Results are mostly intangible and seemingly elusive, but definite.

3. People are a lot less interested in what you do than who you are. The content should perform one of two basic functions. It should either inform e.g. we have new beer, or it should give people a glimpse into the personality of the business.

And now for the rant: in 2020, it is not an optional extra to have a social media presence. It is – by far – our most effective way to stay in touch with existing customers and reach out to new ones. We have far more non-Kennet Island customers than we ever expected and that is overwhelmingly due to social media. It costs zero money. It takes a bit of time of maintain. To say you ‘don’t have time to do social media’ is like saying you don’t have time to talk to customers that walk in the door. 

What one film can you watch over and over again?
Elf. For the scene where he throws himself on the Christmas tree alone.

What is your superpower?
Excel. As in spreadsheets, not as in I excel at anything.

What’s the finest crisp (make and flavour)?
M&S own brand honey roast Wiltshire ham crisps.

Where is your happy place?
Pottering around in the kitchen with the radio or a podcast on.

What is top of your bucket list?
Volunteer/work at a panda reserve. It is impossible not to love pandas.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Letting go is a lot easier than holding onto shit.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure when it comes to food?
Pork pies. All pies.

Tell us something people might not know about you.
I can tell you how to escape a car rapidly sinking in the river. I managed it unscathed. The car not so much.

Describe yourself in three words.
Calm. Analytical. Intolerant-of-twats.

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