Marigold, the beloved yum cha institution in Sydney’s Chinatown, is closing its kitchen for the final time today.
While many restaurants have been able to survive the pandemic by changing the way they operate, such as by focusing on takeaway and delivery services, Marigold has proven not to be one of them.
In a statement on the restaurant’s website, the proprietors explained that COVID-19 had “changed the way we live, work and travel”.
“Sadly, it has also hit Marigold’s function business and weekday trading,” the statement said.
“As there are plans to extend the Citymark Building, it is time to say goodbye.“
Alan Rao, who worked at Marigold as a waiter for more than 10 years, said he wasn’t surprised.
The lack of international students and the closure of the international border had hit the hospitality industry hard during the pandemic, he said.
“I had a good and happy time in Marigold,” he said. “I will miss it.”
‘Marigold is the number one yum cha place to go’
Located in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, Marigold has been serving the local community with Cantonese cuisine for 39 years.
The owners claim it was first Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant in the city.
Since they announced Marigold’s closure, Sydneysiders have flooded into the restaurant to taste its famed prawn dumplings, barbecued pork buns, mango pancakes and steamed chicken feet one last time.
Some even took photos under the eatery’s iconic round logo and shared them on social media.
When the ABC issued a Facebook call out for people’s recollections of the eatery, the fond memories and reminiscences flooded in.
“When the lift doors opened, they thought they were in Hong Kong or Shanghai! The atmosphere was amazing, matched only by the organisation of all the staff,” one reader wrote.
“The one place my kids would eat everything. And the best mango pancakes!! Loved going there before a matinee at the Capitol Theatre. Don’t go, Marigold! We love you!!” another comment said.
Marigold group manager Connie Chung declined an interview with the ABC.
In a written reply, she said the restaurant was “full of customers, and everybody is busy serving them to ensure they have happy experiences”.
Haymarket Chamber of Commerce president Simon Chan said he used to take his children to the restaurant when they were young.
“For many Sydneysiders, they all have many memories of Marigold,” he said.
“That is why it has such a long queue now, because everyone wants to leave with some final memories of Marigold before it is gone.
“Marigold is the number one yum cha place to go.”
A remarkable place for many
Anita Setiawan told the ABC her wedding reception at the Marigold 21 years ago was one of her fondest memories.
“We hosted 360 guests and had a bridal team dancing there next to our elaborate three-tier cake,” she said.
“Our menu included abalone and unlimited alcoholic drinks.
“We thank the management and staff for their wonderful and hardworking attitude of customer service during our special event.”
Over the years since, Marigold has often been a gathering place for Ms Setiawan’s family and friends.
“We have brought our children there and … [brought] our overseas visitors to eat there for yum cha or a la carte dinners,” she said.
Michelle Standret told the ABC Marigold was where she taught her son how to use chopsticks when he was three years old almost 10 years ago.
“We just gave him the chopsticks, and he tried his best to hold them and maybe managed to get a few pieces in his mouth, probably mostly on the floor,” she said.
“Very entertaining to watch.”
Mrs Standret, who lives in Lake Macquarie, said she would never miss the opportunity to eat her favourite steamed pork buns from Marigold when she visited Chinatown.
It’s not just good food
Yanping Zhang, who was born in China’s Guangdong Province, said she felt Marigold was “an ideal place” for her children to experience their cultural heritage as it was “very Cantonese”.
When her second son was a month old in 2015, she held a “full moon” celebration for him there.
Chinese families traditionally hold a banquet to celebrate their newborn’s first month of life, with friends and family blessing the baby with red packets of money.
“My friends came to the party, and I dressed [my son] in funny clothes. The characters on his belly were ‘shumai’, a signature dish of dim sum,” Ms Zhang said.
“It’s a perfect match for Marigold.”
Along with family celebrations, get-togethers and weddings, Marigold was also a popular venue for political gatherings.
Mr Chan said politicians would demonstrate their respect for the Chinese community by holding events there.
He said political heavyweights from across the political spectrum who had attended community events he organised at Marigold included Paul Keating, Penny Wong, Barry O’Farrell and Malcolm Turnbull.
“Marigold is a bridge for the community to engage with different people, including politicians,” he said.
Chinatown needs to look to the future
Despite the community support, Marigold still could not survive in the fast-changing dining scene in Sydney.
Another notable Chinatown closure this year was the fancy seafood restaurant Golden Century.
While there have been reports of a “rescue plan”, the future of that restaurant remains unclear.
With the quick turnover rate and ongoing pressure of the pandemic, smaller restaurants are struggling with similar problems as those famous institutions.
Mr Rao said he was considering a career change once he finished his final shift at Marigold.
“I might find a job in another industry,” he said.
Mr Chan said the closure of Marigold might be a sign Chinatown’s future was in danger and was a huge wake-up call for transition.
“Once the international border is open, and life goes back to normal, we need to bring people back. We need to have things other than food,” he said.
With the rich cultural heritage and unique location in the city, Mr Chan said larger scale events would attract more people and revive Chinatown in the post-COVID era.
“I really do believe that culture is one way to go,” he said.