Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

In this ongoing feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village or Lower East Side.

By James Maher
Name: Jay Yang
Occupation: Owner, The China Star
Location: 1st Avenue between St. Mark's Place and 9th Street
Time: Monday, Oct. 17

I’m originally from the Fujian province in southeast China, very close to Hong Kong. I came here in 1996, when I was eight. My sister was the one who took care of everything for the most part since she was older and my parents were working. Later on my father started working with one of my relatives in the original China Star, around 1998 or 1999. He was helping out there.

Starting around 2000, in middle school, my uncle offered for me to help out during the weekends, so I worked Saturday and Sunday as a delivery boy. We saw all kind of crazy stuff. I have one delivery guy, he delivered the food somewhere on 20th Street. The customer opened the door butt naked, and then he offered my delivery guy to come in. My guy was freaked out, so he just dropped off the food and ran.

There were a few times we would deliver food and people were so wasted, they were like, ‘Take my wallet, take whatever and give me the food.’ Other times, we call up and no one answers. We ring the bell, no one answers. We leave a voicemail, no one answers. We usually tell the delivery guy to wait outside for five minutes to give them time to check their phone — nothing happens. They call me the next day, ‘I didn’t get my food.’ I’m like, ‘You do know it’s already been like 9 or 10 hours?’ Especially during weekends, this always happens. I think it happens about six times a month.

In 2005, my family took over the restaurant from my uncle, and I was working most of the time. We were pretty much working seven days a week at that time. It was really tough, and I was kind of miserable — pretty much work and home, work and home. I just worked seven days a week for a good seven or eight years.

It’s long hours and very hard work. I didn’t see myself working in the restaurant, but I promised my dad I would work. I thought I was just going to work for two years and then move on, and somehow I’m still here. I took over completely in 2012 from my parents.

It’s getting easier because after I married my wife, and we have a kid, I hired my brother-in-law to help me out, so I have some time for the family. Life is getting a little better. Running your own business is never easy, especially with what my parents expect for me. They always want you to do what they do, or even better.

It’s changed. We used to have a lot of customers on Ninth Street, all the way from Avenue A to Second Avenue — all these small shops. All the regular customers have either moved out, went out of business or passed away. You don’t have a regular customer anymore. Every once in awhile you will see a regular, but we lost a lot of customers due to moving out because everything got so expensive in the neighborhood. A lot of my customers, they move into the East Village for a short time and they realize that it’s too expensive to live in the neighborhood, then they either move to Queens or Brooklyn.

I realized that I enjoyed learning about business, how you build your business, how you market it. I learned a lot online. Even though the rent is kind of high these days — I just had my rent increased about 40 percent in March. We also use all these major mobile websites, and the commission is very high. It does bring business but at the same time you have too much overhead — but so far we are still doing alright, and I want to expand and open a different type of restaurant in a new location in the future.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Anonymous said...

fascinating! i can only imagine the many facets of humanity this man has seen! great interview, great photo. thanks for continuing this wonderful series!

Gojira said...

My go-to place for roast pork fried rice and won-ton soup. But I only call for delivery! Thanks for drawing back the curtain on the story behind my fave nabe Chinese.

Anonymous said...

Continued best of luck to this guy and his family!

Anonymous said...

Great stories! A whole world of intrigue that deliverypeople get to (or are forced to, more like it) peek at, it seems like. I'm gonna try ordering from here. But rest assured I'll have my pants on, and payment ready. Also I'm gonna think twice about ordering online, cut out the middleman whenever possible.

Anonymous said...

How great to open up EVG and see this face today! Jay, I am one of those customers who used to be a regular but moved away and disappeared. I lived on 9th street for 5 years between 2009 and 2014, and would come in often for chicken and broccoli with brown rice, extra broccoli :) I moved to California in 2014 but am so glad to see that you are still doing well. Congrats on the new baby!

Anonymous said...

Definitely one of my favorite go-to places in the neighborhood. A pleasure to read and encouraging to see that some people still work hard for what they have and don't expect handouts.

Anonymous said...

This Guy Neighborhood's amazing story fabulous!

Anonymous said...

Jay Yang is one of the nicest people in the East Village. I highly recommend The China Star. Delicious food & great prices.
Great interview & photo.

Peachy McPeach said...

My favorite nearby EV Chinese. Shrimp lobster sauce w/pork fried rice, beef chow fun w/scallions, not too crispy french fries...all good. Jay is a great guy.

Charlie said...

I laughed when I saw this because I know Jay. I've also bought lunch for his other customers, though we were mutual friends. He's right about the rent getting too high and people being financially forced to moved out, or forced to sell because the landlords are going to jack up the rent. And if you read the interview closely, especially between the lines, you'll find tons of insight about what is happening with the neighborhood.