Our Small Business Spotlight this month highlights local business Yen Jing Chinese Restaurant which is celebrating 30 years in Doraville this month. It is a family business in every sense of the word and we were excited to get to know them a little more by sitting down with manager Ching Hsia.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business over the last year and a half?
A: Well, it’s really hard. It was very new to everyone and we had no idea what to expect. There was also a lot of quickly changing information about what we should and shouldn’t do. I remember early on when the mayor contacted me directly and asked “hey, how do you feel about closing the dining room and doing takeout?” And I was like, “what?” So it happened right away and we had to figure out how to make it work. So to protect not only the customers, but us as well, we think the mayor made a good decision. When we opened up the dining room, we got a lot of customers complaining about having to wear masks and we even have a few people pointing at us and saying “you’re the one that caused this.” And there are also plenty of people who are very understanding, who we appreciate.
Q: As you know, 2021 has been a trying time for Asian-Americans and Asian-American businesses. What was it like to operate the business during the spa shooting which targeted the Asian-American community, being so close to that?
A: When I first heard about it, I got so many messages asking “did you hear what happened?” Then when I found out, the question became “what can we do?” It was scary at first because it wasn’t just one, it was multiple shootings. If they happen, they could happen anywhere, right? How can we protect ourselves? We’re family-owned business, I don’t wany anything happening to anybody. For someone to just walk in like that and do what they did, that’s very scary. We added more cameras, became more aware of our surroundings, and keep an eye on what’s going on around us. But at the same time, from this tragedy, one good thing to come out of it was the unity of the community that came together to try and empower each other. It was very, very touching.
Q: On a happier note, what’s the story of your restaurant?
A: We've been here for 30 years. We came from Korea, but we have a Chinese background. So when we were living in Korea, ever since I was little, we had restaurants. We worked in restaurants. My parents worked so hard, we didn't really have that family time. So, my parents wanted to immigrate to the United States for better opportunities and a better future for the next generation of children. So my parents came to the United States without really speaking the language and it was not as easy as they thought it would be. They didn’t think it would be very easy but they didn’t think it would be so hard either.
So my mom worked at restaurants but she didn’t speak the language so she was mostly cleaning and bussing tables. She has a strong work ethic though and some of her coworkers didn’t like how hard she was working so she got bullied a lot while working. My dad worked at another restaurant and over time, they saved enough to open their own restaurant. They looked at a lot of locations but there was just something special about this location. Yen Jing was successful early on because it’s a different type of cuisine – it’s Chinese food but with a Korean fusion to it. And everything is handmade – we make it ourselves. My mom is in charge of making the bread, dad was the book, and my sisters and brothers all work here too.
My parents are also very traditional. They don’t believe in advertisements. It’s all about word of mouth – the community is the best advertising you can get. This restaurant is like our baby. It’s more of our home than our home.
Q: What are some things you’d like to see our city do to help our small businesses that are key to Doraville’s success here on the Buford Highway corridor?
A: The small business forums you’re doing are a great start. I know for a lot of businesses, the main concern is the language barrier. So they’re thinking “even if I go there, what am I going to say?” There’s also this cultural difference where we’re raised to not be too blunt. So it’s hard to give suggestions, especially if it’s something in opposition to the way things are already. Ultimately though, your voice matters – if you don’t speak up, nothing is going to change. With the forums, if we have the language resources in place, then it’s perfect.
One other thing that would be very helpful is more online processes for business licenses and things like that. If we could submit forms and payments online, it could save us from having to go all the way to City Hall whenever we need something.
The City is doing a lot already, though. The interactions we have with the mayor and the city council are always great. I feel like I’ve never talked to a mayor as much as Mayor Geierman. The first time he reached out about COVID, I felt very touched. No mayor has done something like that for us. Even though it’s a little gesture, it still feels very meaningful.
Q: What would your advice be for someone looking to start a small business?
A: Love what you do. Don’t start a business if you just want to make money. Money is important, of course, but if it’s something you know and you love, then you’re going to be more successful. You need you put patience and time into it as well, you can’t expect it to be a hit in one time. It takes a lot of time and you need to work collaboratively with people to make progress. And like I said, the business is your baby, take care of it and put your heart in it.
Q: What makes Yen Jing special and why do you think your restaurant has lasted 30 years when many don’t?
A: It’s definitely the family aspect and the community. The support we have is how we’ve gotten through COVID. Right now, everywhere is looking to hire. Since our family does so much, I was telling my mom the other day, “have you thought about having more kids?”
We’re not a perfect family but all of us come together every day and work together because this restaurant is our heart. We know how to work together through our differences because at the end of the day, we all want what’s best for the restaurant. We have the community supporting us through word of mouth too, which has kept us going since we opened the restaurant. We sometimes have customers who come in and tell us about how they’ve been coming since they were little. They bring their kids. We have multiple generations come in here and we get to watch people grow up. I met customers years ago when they were young who now have kids of their own! It’s like we’re all growing together.