Youthful restaurateur supports employees with a mental illness to thrive at work

At the relatively tender age of 25, Ami Tran is already an extremely successful businesswoman. She owns two popular restaurants – one in Sunbury and one in Moonee Ponds – and a roaring catering business that provides the same high quality Vietnamese street food as the restaurants.

Ami’s business model is quite simple: hire staff who are passionate about their work, and treat them well.

“The core of our success has been the staff,” she says. “They are one of the key reasons our customers keep coming back.”

“I honestly believe that their attitude and work ethic is the most important thing they bring to the job. You can teach skills, but the right attitude isn’t so easy to train. If they’re passionate about being here, they will do a good job, whether they’re preparing food or dealing with customers.”

Ami also has a social conscience, and believes businesses have an obligation to use their status as employers to benefit their local community. And with unemployment high in Melbourne’s west and north-west – where her restaurants The Green Leaf and District 3429 are located – Ami tries to hire people out of those areas if possible.

That’s why she approached Ostara Australia, a national not-for-profit that provides specialist recruitment services to employers and finds sustainable employment solutions for job seekers disadvantaged by mental illness or other disabilities. The organisation has around sixty offices across Australia, including one in Sunbury. 

“I hoped Ostara Australia could find me people from the communities around my restaurants and who would be pleased about having a job,” says Ami. “And that is exactly what happened.”

Kristina Comfort is one of those people. Kristina lives with a mental illness, and had been struggling to find a meaningful job before coming to Ostara Australia for assistance.

“I was applying for anything and everything,” she says. “Retail, customer service, receptionist – just everything. But I never heard back from any of them.”

Ostara Australia helped Kristina write a resume that would make an impact on a potential employer. They helped her with job application skills, showed her key websites to browse for jobs that might suit her, and also alerted her when such jobs came up.

“Just knowing that I was being supported like that gave me confidence,” she says.

After being told by her Employment Consultant at Ostara Australia that there was a job going at Ami’s Sunbury restaurant, District 3429, Kristina applied and got the job. She’s now working as a kitchen hand, washing dishes and also helping to prepare food like dumplings and skewers.

“It’s so good to have a job, compared to the frustration of not having one and really wanting one” she says.

Jennifer Veitch is another Ostara Australia client working as a kitchen hand at District 3429. Jennifer has a mild intellectual disability and takes a little extra time and support to learn new tasks – time and support that Ami is perfectly prepared to give her.

“I want to create a comfortable atmosphere for all my staff to work in,” says Ami. “If it takes a little longer with some people, I still know it will be worth it.”

In all, Ami employs seven Ostara Australia clients across her businesses who do a range of jobs from waitressing to kitchen hands. She firmly believes that a person who has had to overcome barriers in their search for a job often makes the most committed, loyal and passionate staff member.

“If you give these guys an opportunity, and place them in an environment and in a role that suits them and makes the most of their talents, it can help your business,” she says. “They’re very happy to be at work, they bring a positive vibe, and the customers respond to that.”

“I’d encourage other businesses around here to consider doing the same thing. They might be surprised at how much it improves their business.”

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consumers and carers, consumers and carers empowerment