Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cotton Ding; the Heartwarming story of Shanghai's Favorite Restauranteur

If you mention the name Cotton Ding to anyone who has experienced Shanghai's nightlife scene you will receive the general consensus that she is one of the city's friendliest, most welcoming people. Cotton is well known around town for her two villa bars, as well as a recent foray into restaurants. What makes her bars so famous and unique are the beautiful terraces and fireplaces. Her bars are places you can go to for brunch, afternoon drinks, or for an evening beside the fireplace. The focus of Cotton's bars has always been more on wine and cocktails, but they also feature a wide variety of beer. 

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Cotton feels getting to know her
 guests is most important, so she spends a great deal of time in her bars. Whitewashed walls, velvet seats, and fireplaces are included in the bars, as well as her restaurant, Hunan House run by her brother, to make a warm and welcoming atmosphere for guests. 

What one might not know is behind Cotton's warmth and success, lies a powerful story of a woman who left her home in rural Hunan to try and make a living in Shanghai. She had to overcome many challenges to become the success she is today. She was born in a tiny village that was an hour's hike and then another hour's drive to the nearest city. After finishing high school, Cotton realized there were no jobs in her town that would be able to provide a living for her. So with only enough money for one trip home and a pair of worn out shoes, she left home to try to find a job

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Her first job was in a Chinese restaurant, working ten hour days, making very little, and living in a staff apartment with 20 other girls. She says after many nights of going home and crying, she realized the only way for her to get a good job was to learn english. She had no money for school, so she got a job at an American-style cafe, despite her limited english skills. She kept a daily diary of english and received help from her customers till she learned english. She then paid her way through a two-year graphic design program. She moved to Shanghai with dreams of becoming a graphic designer, but after two months of no offers she got a job as a bartender. 

After a short period of time, Cotton realized she loved her job and being a bartender. In 2002, Cotton opened up her own bar after finding an investor and location. WIthin a year the bar was profitable, but shortly after, she received a letter from her landlord saying the lease was being cancelled early to set up a language school. It did not take long for her to realize she had been deceived and the landlord had stole her bar idea. Cotton felt very disheartened, but instead of giving up, she opened up a new location. Her new location did even better than the first and it wasn't long till she opened up a second successful location

Cotton's success story is both heartwarming but also inspiring because she is an example of how far hard work and determination can carry you. 

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