Episode 35 | PS Kitchen: April Tam Smith
It's not only about the people that are receiving. It's about who you want to become and being aware of that is so important.
Below is an abridged audio transcript of Episode 35 from Season 3 of Rock The Boat: Against All Odds, edited for clarity.
April Tam Smith is a superstar at her investment firm but also at her other job, a giver and a philanthropist. She's an inspiration and a role model and talks to us in this episode how her Asian American background shaped her views. She also gives us some insight into what it's like to be a woman and a person of color in a field that is mostly not those two things.
We find out more about:
P.S. Kitchen, the plant-based restaurant in New York City that April co-founded where they give 100% of the profits to charity
how bible study changed her life
what grittiness and gratitude mean to her
I. April's Origin Story
April: Hi, my name is April Tim Smith. I am the co-founder of PS kitchen a social Enterprise vegan restaurant in Times Square.
I'm also one of the managing directors in equity derivatives on a trading floor. April didn't start off wanting to be in finance or a restaurant owner for that matter.
Lucia: April studied engineering at MIT and she got a job on the trading floor after college to pay back all the hard work her parents went through to raise her in the United States.
Lynne: April was born in Hong Kong but moved to the United States when she was in Middle School, like most people in Hong Kong her family lived in a tiny apartment as an only child her parents often treated her like one of the adults.
When she turned 11, April move to the states and her family settled in Miami.
April: I remember some of my friends who were struggling a little bit more having moved from Macau and China at a similar age to Miami where there were literally no Asian people. I mean there were maybe five or six of us in a whole school of like 4500.
Lucia: Being Christian is important to April. She started going to Bible study in Hong Kong and it was there where she found role models and older jie jie a term of endearment used to describe the upperclassmen sisters who had gone off to college in the US and who April really looked up to.
April's family didn't typically go to church together, but in Miami April begged her parents if they could her parents obliged and opened up the local Chinese newspaper. They made some phone calls to find out more about some of the local churches and soon they got more than they asked for.
April: I remember the house being relatively empty and we call this church and told him that we might be interesting going and like 14 people showed up into an empty house to visit and you're welcome us into Miami and to the states and said that they would be happy to drive us because that the time we haven't gone chance to get a car or any of that yet and that's kind of how we plugged in to have community.
Being an immigrant kid for sure, you know coming to the states and trying to figure out how do I learn this language? Like what is the SATs? How do people go to college? Like how do you apply for financial aid?
Needing to figure out all of that when you're 16 and 17. I think definitely teach you something about like, okay. I just need to like go and make this work.
Lucia: This is grit the idea of grit comes up multiple times as we get into April's story. The grittiness of being an immigrant kid. It's something that many people can relate to.
April carried that grittiness into her adulthood as well. As you recall, she got into MIT, the top engineering school in the nation, and afterwards she got a job on the trading floor of a major financial institution.
II. April's Good Work
April: I really realized like what pays me doesn't necessarily have to define me or say this is what I do because I do so many things we can all do that plus. The platform that we can have and the influence that we can have in that same job and that big company something that I think it hit me as I matured in my company.
Lucia: April founded PS kitchen. It's a nonprofit restaurant that gives away 100% of its proceeds to charity. The restaurant also employs people who are marginalized in society, but what prompted April to start a restaurant of all things.
At the orphanage in Haiti where she volunteers they bring supplies and do really whatever they can to help the people who run the orphanage what she realized by going to the orphanage is that many of the children are economic orphans. So either one or sometimes both of the parents are alive, but because of extreme poverty conditions the parents truly think that the child would have a better chance in a better future if they gave them up and sent them to the orphanage.
April: I've really enjoyed bringing young people for example, or very senior people. I've done both to come with me to Haiti and seeing them see that part of my work.
Lucia: She told us about an 18 year old mom who knocked on the door of the orphanage while she was there and. Bagged for the orphanage to take her child in.
April: She just really like pleaded with us to take him.
And it was really really sad. She was crying a lot of course, but she was just fully convinced she cannot do it and this is the best thing. Thankfully, we end hiring her to do odd jobs at the orphanage to give her that economic empowerment to be able to feed her own kid and actually believing that she can do it.
I hear the same theme which is, "I just want a job. I want to be able to provide for myself."
Lucia: So that was one of the early catalysts for April's idea to open PS kitchen. The idea was to donate all the profits from the restaurant and to train and hire people who are in need of sustainable employment opportunities. Oh and one more thing they serve only plant-based food.
III. April's Philosophy
April: It's been a multiple opportunities where younger people ask me how do you decide to live in this way or how do I become what generous and that's one thing that I always go back to.
It's not only about the people that is receiving. It's about who you want to become and being aware of that is so important. Money could be so deceiving and I think that's why I credit my parents a lot to this idea of gratitude.
All of us a lot of us got to quote-unquote where we're at because we've worked hard. But a lot of people work really, really, really hard. Some of the hardest working people I have ever met are the women that are behind those sewing machines in Haiti in the garment sector. And they're making five dollars a day and they walk to work and they finish their days of work and then they stay after for three hours to do our high school completion program just so that they stand a chance to maybe get their high school degree.
And sometimes even if they do pass nothing changes in their lives, but they just want to be able to tell their kids, "Hey, I did it and you can do it."
And I say all that because I think it is so important to remember that we could have worked as hard as we want and have we been born in a different country, different race, different time era, our lives would have been very different.
It's really powerful to hear about all the projects April's been involved with while also juggling the demand of a full-time career. It makes us really think that if you really wanted to you can do more with your time anybody can do it.
April gives so much and even though she attributes a lot of that to her faith and upbringing that does not mean her message isn't universal. We can all do a little more to help others, even if it is only by supporting businesses that provide jobs to ex-convicts.
For more information:
Defy Ventures, a nonprofit that provides entrepreneurship and business training to people in prison