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.