MU AI Restaurant in Yangon – a quiet treasure in a city of shifting priorities.
After a short walk through a bustling market and colourful stalls, I find a quiet eating house nestled between tall buildings and vibrant green pot plants, its narrow inviting entrance impossible to ignore.
Ushered to a table by attentive and inquisitive staff, I finally meet La Roi, a quietly spoken young man who a number of years earlier had been a student at GraceWorks Myanmar (GWM) Multipurpose Education Facility (MPEF) in Yangon.
The MPEF centre provided assisted accommodation for students for eleven months and during this time they received intensive IT and English language training, practical life and independent living skills, and basic hospitality education. The goal of this project was to equip and empower young people with confidence and purpose as they transitioned into adulthood from institutional or marginalised backgrounds.
La Roi is from the Kachin State which is the northernmost state of Myanmar. It is bordered by China to the north and east, Shan State to the south, and Sagaing Region and India to the west. He is one of nine children who lived with their mother after the passing of their father.
After graduating from the GWM training centre and gaining experience as a catering assistant, La Roi established his own restaurant ‘MU AI’ (meaning ‘delicious’ in Kachin language) in 2016. This is where he shared his story with us over a selection of delightful Kachin dishes.
La Roi’s culinary interest was shaped at a young age whilst watching his mother cook speciality Kachin recipes. He would join in the preparation, learning how to present dishes with a difference as ‘art on a plate’; a feature now evident at MU AI and that attracts overseas guests as an authentic Kachin dining experience.
He enthusiastically recalls his training at GWM and attributes much of his current success to the mentoring and leadership of the centres’ director Jenny Webb (a current GWM director), who instilled in the students a passion and desire to learn and dream.
The centre established a social enterprise, offering Myanmar cooking classes to foreign visitors. The venture offered the students valuable experience in small business start-up and development. La Roi spoke of this experience with enthusiasm and recalled how his interaction with overseas guests, while conducting guided tours of local wet markets and hosting cooking classes had helped him build self-confidence, self -belief and trust in his peers.
La Roi is currently working on a 5 year plan to expand his restaurant presence in Yangon and beyond. He is measured and articulate in his planning, choosing his words carefully and thoughtfully as he shares his vision for the future.
I learnt much from La Roi’s story which is as inspiring and motivating as it is enduring. MU AI is a quiet treasure in a city of shifting priorities, much like La Roi himself.
Peter Simmons, CEO – GWM
You will find MU AI at:
No.(10/B) Ground Floor,
Hledan 1st Street, Hledan road,
Near Hledan Centre,
Kamayut, Town ship, Yangon
La Roi’s journey is the highlight of a generous donor who funded the GWM training centre. He is one of several students who has seized he opportunity to explore possibilities that have changed their life, and by extension, that of their immediate and extended family. GWM has learnt that the greatest value and support from donors may not be realised until long after the funding has ceased and often cannot be tracked with short-term goals. The road to success for marginalised youth is long and challenging, and recognising that results take time, GWM has implemented a post funding review of individuals and projects to monitor their progress and long term sustainability. La Roi’s success is a testament to the enduring, persistent and courageous people that have been influenced and shaped by GWM’s training and support.