How Tracy Chang, Founder of PAGU, Leads with Empathy

Learn how Tracy Chang used the values she learned growing up in the restaurant industry to lead one of her own.

5 min read
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When we hire at DoorDash, we look for people who demonstrate the values we’ve identified as important to succeed — and we see those values in our restaurateurs, too. Tracy Chang is the founder of PAGU, a Japanese tapas restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts that offers delivery and pick-up through Caviar.

Before the pandemic, PAGU had already established itself as a place where food, community, and collaboration converged. Her “thinking outside the room” ethos, along with her empathetic leadership, shone through during the pandemic. 

“COVID was about finding ways to float my employees, so they could survive, which was more important than my restaurant surviving. Simultaneously, the guests we served were looking for ways to connect with and contribute to their community’s needs,” she says. 

For Tracy, learning the importance of empathy began with her grandmother, who was a restaurateur in Tokyo. As a child, Tracy thought she was just learning how to scoop green tea ice cream for guests, but soon learned it was about the relationships her grandmother cultivated with guests and employees. Tracy saw how her grandmother’s hard work and leadership created opportunities for other immigrants, which in turn helped build a multicultural community with quality food and gracious hospitality.

She dreamed of opening her own restaurant one day—and achieved her goal before her 30th birthday. PAGU, derived from the Japanese translation of “pug,” is her interpretation of a soulful Japanese-Spanish restaurant, cafe, and bakery. Since opening PAGU, Tracy has been a 2020 James Beard Best Chef Northeast nominee and a 2020 Star Chefs Rising Stars Game Changer. She’s also a graduate of the Main Street Strong Accelerator, which aims to offer financial support and specialized educational resources to small businesses, focusing on restaurants owned by women, immigrants, and people of color. 

Shifting priorities

During the pandemic, Tracy showed up for her community. “I started two nonprofits and collaborated on those with two women of color who are outside of the restaurant industry, which was quite interesting,” Tracy says. One of the nonprofits, Project Restore Us, provides culturally appropriate groceries to immigrant essential workers, with the help of small restaurants owned by women and people of color and their employees. Since May 2020, they have provided 500,000 pounds of food to 5,000+ households and restored 3,000+ shift hours to restaurant employees.

carney by keiko

The second nonprofit, Off Their Plate, began as an initiative to feed frontline healthcare workers while restoring restaurant jobs and livelihoods. During the pandemic's start, Tracy and her team delivered over 100 meals to essential workers at Carney Hospital in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Since then, it has since evolved to feeding community health centers in partnership with small businesses owned by women of color. In 12 weeks, it expanded to nine cities nationwide, raised over $5.8 million, served over 578,000 meals, and restored more than $2.8 million in wages. 

“My goal is to hopefully create a better workplace and general work environment for those who come after me, and really support the industry,” Tracy says.  

Tracy knows there’s much work to be done in making the restaurant industry more inclusive and accessible. “The question for me is: if the talent pool of the restaurant industry moving forward is Latina women, then how do we create resources for them to be successful in this industry?” Tracy says. “A lot of that is training, a lot of that is addressing that restaurants don’t always know how to hire, and how to maintain this community. This is about helping them break the barriers to the next step. One of the solutions I’m contributing is creating standard operating procedures, to make training and employee welfare more accessible, scalable, and successful for others.”

On the guests’ part, in addition to enjoying great food, I want them to empathize with our employees who have English as a second language. Our nonprofits bridged the gap between the "haves and have nots" in more ways than one. Similarly, our restaurant bridges this gap day in and day out.

Tracy Chang, Owner, PAGU

Stories like Tracy’s remind us of how resilient and crucial restaurants are to our communities — and how the best restaurateurs work tirelessly every day to make this industry a better place for everyone. If you’re a restaurant owner looking to grow your business, you can take the first step toward connecting with us here at DoorDash and Caviar. We’ll be back with more stories about restaurants and the communities that support them on Unlocking Success.


Christopher Payne
Christopher Payne

President, DoorDash

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