Cynthia Koo, a 30-year-old designer, uses her marketing and art expertise to help manage an Instagram presence and an English-language website for her family’s Cantonese restaurant, Oriental Garden: “I speak Cantonese and took Mandarin in school, but I don't read enough to understand the register. But I’ve helped in other ways.”
I spoke with Koo in the spring of 2018. Below is our conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
When I was a kid, all of our family celebrations would be here at the restaurant. I spent a lot of time after school here and at the garment factory where my mother worked. It probably wasn’t up to code, but the children of the other seamstresses would all be there. We would run around, play in the fabric.
When I was born, my father was just a waiter at Oriental Garden. Actually, he’s worked his way all the way up from busboy to part owner. And now my mother helps out here, too. She’s always managed the books, but now she helps behind the register as well.
I’ve never been able to do that—I speak Cantonese and took Mandarin in school, but I don’t read enough to understand the register. But I’ve helped in other ways. We’ll have family dinner once a week, and things just come up in conversation. My dad will run through the difficulties they are dealing with, and I’ll find ways to help.
Like, over the years we’ve gotten press inquiries in English, but he doesn’t know exactly how to handle them. Maybe he isn’t sure what they are asking or how to respond. Language is hard in general. He’s also having me take the food-safety certificate classes so that I can liaise with the health-inspector authorities. The rules are really hard to decipher, and every time they get a point off, my dad is really anxious.