Photography by Libby Williams
By Shelley Hill Young
Duolan Li has a lot on her plate. She and her husband, Josh Walker, opened their second restaurant, Tu, with partner Joey Ryan in November, two months after she found out she was pregnant with her first child.
Day to day, Duolan serves as the office manager for both Tu and the partners’ first restaurant, Xiao Bao Biscuit. She played an integral role in the design of Tu, a restored Charleston single house on Meeting Street. And she also has been finding time to pursue her other creative outlet – music and DJing.
Duolan, who previously worked in finance in New York and marketing analytics in Charleston, possesses a understated cool and confident quality.
That’s the vibe you get when you walk into Tu. There are three dining areas, each with a distinct personality. The main dining area and bar are housed in an addition the partners had built on the back of the house. The room has subtle peachy-pink plaster walls, orange velvet banquettes, terrazzo tables and terrazzo floors. The tile in the bathroom is Millennial pink, reminiscent of the ‘80s, in a good way.
“I was trying to find this balance between modern and comfort,” Duolan says.
There are no masculine-feeling dark-wood or rustic elements to be found in the minimalistic main dining area.
“I wanted to have a restaurant space that is very playful and feminine,” she says. “I wanted to create a different feeling.”
Inside the original house, there’s “the black room” with matte black walls and a neon light in the corner, which is very sexy at night. And then there’s “the disco room” with a mirror ball, where larger parties are seated.
Taken together, the rooms represent all the moods you might feel in one night, Duolan says.
“You feel like you’re at a house party and you’re having a really fun dining experience.”
While many know Duolan through the restaurants, there’s also a buzz around her turns as a guest DJ at several hot nightclubs around town. Her passion for music comes from growing up in Seattle at the height of the grunge scene and a stint as a college radio DJ at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. She’s a guest DJ at Faculty Lounge and the Purple Buffalo. She spins a lot of ‘90s house music. Don’t expect to hear Top 40 tunes. Her last gig before baby arrives is Backroom Bounce on April 20 at Faculty Lounge. After baby comes, Duolan still hopes to find time to continue DJing and possibly producing.
Duolan says women often put so much on themselves, striving to be perfect. She has learned to recognize the bad impact that can have and strives to be more fearless, to put herself out there more often, to allow herself to be more creative, even if it’s not perfect.
“I’m doing all the things I held back from because I was worried about doing it right” she says.
And she says that’s especially important now that she’s expecting a baby girl. “I don’t want to be so protective,” she says. “I want a girl that wants to climb a tree.”
Place to buy stuff for the house: Hausful
Neighborhood go-to: Huriyali
Favorite place for juice: Basic Kitchen
Favorite place to buy funky socks: Worthwhile
Favorite item on the menu at Tu: The ribs – and she says “save room for dessert.”