Wilson Tang’s Take on the “Myth of Chinatown Restaurants”

Wilson Tang: “$1 a Plate” Street Fair Won’t Help Chinatown

Flyers for this weekend’s street fair have gone up throughout Chinatown.

Editor’s note: A couple of days ago we mentioned a street fair taking place Saturday to drum up business for Chinatown shops and restaurants struggling after Hurricane Sandy.  But not everyone thinks the event is the best way to make the neighborhood’s small businesses stronger.  Among them: Nom Wah Tea Parlor owner (and TLD contributor) Wilson Tang.   Here are his thoughts on the “Chinatown Revival Fair.”

Chinatown holds a special place in my heart.  It’s where I grew up, it’s where I work and own a business, and I’m proud to be part of this community.  Whether I’m pointing tourists in the right direction, seeing my doctor or dentist in Chinatown, buying produce or “pigging out,” I’m a big advocate for “keeping it local.”

From my vantage point, it’s not hard to see the obstacles Chinatown’s small business owners face, especially restaurant operators. They’re constantly chasing the dream instead of living the dream — with the lowest profit margins imaginable. Think about what it’s like making a living selling  $1 dumplings and $3 lunch boxes. I speak from first hand experience.  In 2004, I opened a bakery on Allen Street, near Hester, but eventually closed the place because I wasn’t getting the volume to survive on 60 cent coffees and 80 cent pastries. Working 80 plus hours a week wasn’t doing me any good either.  As fixed costs increase and rents continue to go up, you don’t have a chance in this neighborhood unless you’re doing huge volume.

Earlier this week, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, along with the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, announced they were holding a street fair this weekend to help local businesses recover from the losses sustained during and after Hurricane Sandy. On face value, I thought it was a good idea to promote small business in my neighborhood during a really tough time.  It seemed like a great way to get people down to Chinatown to spend money and to help out the local economy.

Wilson Tang’s Guide to Doyers Street

Doyers Street. Photo by Vivienne Gucwa/nythroughthelens.com.

Editor’s note: Black Friday is, of course, in full swing throughout New York City.  Whether you’re braving the crowds today or over the weekend, there’s no better post-Thanksgiving, post-shopping treat than a good meal in Chinatown.  And as Wilson Tang, the second generation owner of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor points out, there’s never been a better time to show your support for your favorite neighborhood restaurants.

As a restaurant owner in Chinatown and a lifelong Lower Manhattan resident, I wanted to write a few words to encourage people to dine downtown in the upcoming days and weeks — and especially to come check out Chinatown, a place that’s dear to my heart.

Now more than ever, Chinatown needs customers in its restaurants and shops. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you Hurricane Sandy really did a number on the neighborhood’s commerce.  Long after the storm passed, businesses continued to suffer.  The losses from spoiled produce and seafood were in the thousands for places like my restaurant, which uses a lot of shrimp. The worst part is that the residual effects are still being felt by most businesses, since rent, utilities and labor costs just keep accumulating. It would not surprise me if some restaurants don’t make it in the upcoming months.

Wilson Tang: Don’t Dismiss My Chinese Restaurant Because I Have White Customers

Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street.

Editor’s note: The following article is from Wilson Tang, the owner of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown:

How do you decide whether a Chinese restaurant is any good?  Do you check out the customers to see if any Chinese people are actually eating there?  I know a lot of people do — and some of them are turned off by too many white diners. But I’ve gotta tell you,  it’s a pretty messed up way to choose a restaurant.  As a guy who grew up in Chinatown, surrounded by family in the restaurant business, I definitely have strong feelings about this topic.

Two years ago, I took over the Nom Wah Tea Parlor from my Uncle Wally, who’d run the place (a Chinatown institution) since 1974.  In some ways, not much has changed from the good ol’ days.  Our longtime Chinese “regulars” are here every morning when we open at 10:30, just as they have been for decades. Dim sum is traditionally a morning and midday meal, so it’s no surprise that Nom Wah, Chinatown’s oldest dim sum parlor, was historically busiest early in the day.  What’s different is that I have put a lot of energy into a “dim sum for dinner” campaign, creating a late day business that never existed before.

My LES: Wilson Tang

This feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. This week, we are featuring Wilson Tang of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, who was appointed to Community Board 3 this spring. (Wilson was also featured in our print magazine this month). 

What do you do?

I run one of the oldest and coolest restaurants in Chinatown, Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers Street, aka “The Bloody Angle.” The street where gang violence was huge and now, not so much. It’s just a rad street with awesome dim sum and a post office.

How long have you lived on the LES?

I’ve lived on Allen Street between Canal and Hester since my childhood days [except for when] my folks moved me out of the neighborhood and into Queens. It had something to do with the gang violence back in the day, but I was back on Allen through college, when I attended Pace University for my undergrad. My ’rents still live there, but I live in FiDi now with my wife.

A Summer Celebration at Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Nom Wah Tea Parlor proprietor Wilson Tang emailed us last night with news of a little get-together at his newly renovated Doyers Street restaurant. Everyone’s invited to stop by July 27th for a “Summer Get Down in Chinatown,” co-sponsored by Wilson and Craig Nelson, the creator of the new Chinatown Chowdown iphone/ipad App.  You can check out the Facebook events page for more info.  In other tea parlor news, the restaurant will be staying open later on Fridays and Saturdays (until 10 p.m.) to satisfy your late night dim sun cravings.