William Liu

Class of 2001
Managing Director, Sono Japanese Restaurant & Motto 
Motto Japanese Kitchen

At age 10, William Liu clearly remembers vowing to become the president of China in order to change the political system from communism to capitalism.

Born in Ningbo, China, William’s first capitalist venture involved buying sheets of superhero stickers, cutting them up and selling them at a profit.

William attributes his business mind and work ethic to his mother who founded China’s first private school and counts multiple schools, driving schools and universities among her portfolio.

William arrived at John Paul International College (JPIC) in 1999. He quickly transitioned through JPIC and commenced in the main school in Year Eleven in 2000. That same year he won the Physics and Maths C prize at Speech Night. In 2001 he was awarded an Overall Position of 1.

Having settled on a Bachelor of Accountancy as the most practical course to fully understand the health of a business, William dedicated hours to study, undertaking five subjects a semester and attending and summer school to complete his degree early. A two-hour lecture would be followed up by six to eight hours of extra study to fully understand the content. He graduated in 2004 with a GPA of almost seven.

In 2005 as a 22-year-old with no experience in the hospitality industry, he negotiated and purchased Sono Restaurant, a struggling restaurant in the Queen Street Mall which he had critiqued as a customer, while a university student.

‘I sold everything; I begged and I borrowed to fund it. I knew nothing about cooking. I still can’t cook instant noodles.’

Along for the ride from day one was JPC classmate, Lisa Yao, who still serves as the company’s Chief Financial Officer.

Working seven days a week, 14-hour days, William turned the restaurant around in the first year to become regarded as Brisbane’s premier fine-dining Japanese restaurant.

In 2006 William was invited to open in the Portside development at Hamilton. A six-month fit-out delay, operational inefficiencies and the onset of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) contributed to three years of immense stress.

William knew that to make the 200-seat restaurant run effectively, an automated system that could control the seven sections that make up a Japanese kitchen was required.

‘We poured money into technology to develop the first advanced kitchen system that could handle the co-ordination of up to 1500 dishes over three hours.’

The GFC forced William to re-evaluate his business model to introduce cheaper, casual dining into the portfolio in 2010. After two years of planning, Motto Motto was born and has expanded to include corporate stores at Chermside, Macquarie University and Pacific Fair.

Armed with a new online internal management and control system (Origami) to regulate operations, William plans to roll out a further 60 – 70 franchised stores over the coming years to become a major player in the industry rivalling the likes of Grill’d.

For now, William is excited about the re-opening of his flagship Queen Street Mall restaurant and Sono’s recent awards.

In 2017 the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association named Sono the best Japanese Restaurant in Australia in 2017. Just recently it collected its third consecutive title as the best Japanese restaurant in the Brisbane/Darlings Down region.

One thing is for certain, he’s not afraid of working hard or taking risks. William credits many teachers for his success; Jenny Guse, Cath Moore, Tsae Wong and Paula Leyden among them. He is particularly thankful for his meeting with Russell Welch in China in 1998; a meeting that would pave the way for his move to John Paul College.