During COVID, digital account manager Emily Ng left Sydney to manage her parent’s Chinese restaurant in Malua Bay, in regional NSW.
The restaurant had just reopened after being destroyed by the bushfires of 2019. The 31-year-old shares what prompted her career change and move back home.
Did you think you’d live in Batemans Bay as an adult?
A 100 per cent no. Hell no. As soon as I left for boarding school in Canberra at the age of 16 I thought, “I’m never coming back.”
How would you describe your life in Sydney just before you left?
I moved to Sydney for uni when I was 18. By the time I left Sydney, I’d been at my job at a digital agency for about four years. I was working around the clock, burning out, and felt like I was on the tail end of my career. I asked myself “Where does this lead to for me?”
Why did you make this seachange?
There were nights where I was sweating about whether or not it was the right thing to do. It was a really hard decision because I loved my Sydney life. I would go and eat at every single restaurant and drive all over the city looking for new places to eat. That was my life — I’d go out and eat four, five times a week.
Three things happened, basically. I didn’t know whether or not I wanted to do this job anymore. And then the bushfires hit in 2019 and I saw what my parents went through last Christmas, and my dad (at the age of 75) wanted to open a new restaurant instead of moving to Sydney to retire.
And then COVID hit. And I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore — the working from home, the video conference calls. The novelty wore off very quickly. There were only so many walks I could do around Canterbury to make sure I was alright.
What was it like when you first moved back to Malua Bay?
When we first opened the restaurant from scratch in October 2020, we were still trying to find our feet and our groove, but gradually the sense of ease came back; I’ve waitressed ever since I was a kid. Dad had been doing it forever, but for me it was so hard those first few months.
Now that everyone’s settled in their roles and we’re getting food out quicker, it’s like, “Oh yeah, I remember how to do this now.”
What does your life look like now?
It’s a whole different ball game to look after staffing, management, to make sure the business is running smoothly. I get up at 7am and go to the gym, then go home and have breakfast, have a smoothie, then go to the restaurant at 10:15am and start unpacking and set up the restaurant. I check all the stock, and check if Dad needs stock from our suppliers.
As soon as my dad gets in, he’ll come to me if there’s anything he needs, like paying bills. Then I write a list of things I need to buy, like beers or alcohol. I have lunch at 11 and everyone starts to arrive for the lunch shift at 11:30 and we finish the lunch shift at 2:45pm. Then we cash up and clean up and I have an hour break.
Normally in that hour Dad will tell me what he needs from town so I’ll drive in to Batemans Bay and maybe pick up oysters from the oyster shed. And then I’m back here again at 5pm to have dinner and start my shift at 5:30pm.
I have Mondays off, but usually I spend those doing accounts. The days roll into one. But like now, I’m sitting at the beach looking at the ocean and I’m like, this is not a bad place to be.
What have you found most rewarding about this experience?
I think seeing my dad as happy as he is at his age. I know it seems like we work really hard, but he’s just so happy. He’s healthy. And also just hearing the customers say “This is honestly the best Chinese food we’ve ever eaten” or “This is impeccable”.
I never got that type of satisfaction from my old job. Not once. I never got the fulfilment I do now.
What advice would you give to someone considering a major life change?
My advice is that even though there’s the stress of making the decision, at the end of the day, if you think it’s right, you just have to bite the bullet and just do it.
I needed to do something for me to help bring that satisfaction in my life that I was missing in my job in Sydney.
Meet Emily and her family in Chopsticks or Fork?, a six-part series about Chinese restaurants in regional Australia, coming to iview later this year.
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