Q & A with '626 Night Market' Founder Jonny Hwang: Community, Street Food, Stinky Tofu + Taiwanese Pig Ears
626 Night MarketSo it won't look exactly like this, but we imagine it to be pretty close.
Debuting on April 14th in Pasadena, the 626 Night Market will be Southern California's first Asian night market. And with more than 2,000 fans on Facebook, the event is slated to be a huge San Gabriel Valley hit. Founders Jonny Hwang and his wife Janet come from Taiwan, where the night market, or ye shi, is a cultural commodity.
"Over in Taiwan the night markets are a staple of daily society," Hwang, who had operated a restaurant and lounge during his time in Taiwan said. "My wife came to the
States several years ago; it's hard for her to adapt here. It's different from Taipei. In here, especially in the suburbs it's a lot more quiet. We wanted something for people to do on the weekend besides clubbing and bar hopping."
Though the team is not making a profit from the event, the two hope to eventually turn the event into a regular experience. "The event has attracted a lot of attention and our website is pretty healthy. But the donations are not turning. We also really lowered our vendor fee to the point that we're not going to cover our cost. But we're going to continue this venture in the future and see what happens," Hwang said. In addition to planning and juggling vendor requests, Hwang works full-time in the entertainment industry. But he found the time to talk to us about the concept, challenges, and of course -- the food.
626 Night MarketNight market vendor meeting
Squid Ink: What are the logistical obstacles you and your team had to face in making this concept a reality?
Jonny Hwang: Getting in touch with the vendors was definitely a roadblock. The first month we set up a website and we cold-called a lot of our favorite restaurants. Basically we didn't get anybody to sign up. We were almost to the point of defeat. But that's the magical thing about the Internet. Our website went from not many views a day to thousands of views a day. Interested businesses starting signing up and now we still have calls from inquiring vendors.
SI: What really pushed you to keep on going despite the roadblocks? What is the philosophy or underlying message you hope to bring to the community?
JH: There are really three components: community, commerce and culture. First of all, community. The night market event is something that people from all ages that people from all cities can come to and enjoy on the weekend. For commerce, we want to support the local entrepreneurs and businesses. A lot of the vendors are first time entrepreneurs, and this is really a low cost way for entrepreneurs to expand. And culture: This is a way to bring a little bit of Asia to the Los Angeles area and expose it to a larger audience. There are a lot of hidden Chinese restaurants in the valley and it can be intimating for non-Asian people to venture out by themselves. This is a way to bridge that gap.
SI: Speaking of intimidating, the Taiwanese night markets are not the most sanitary places in the world. Pasadena is going to have more stringent requirements. What's the set up going to look like?
JH: Since we are in Pasadena, it won't work exactly like a night market in Taiwan or Thailand, or in Bangkok or Korea. We're blocking off North Oakland Avenue between Colorado and Union and we're going to set up two rows of vendors booths. And then we'll have an adjacent parking lot for food. We really want to stress presentation and we don't want it to just look like a flea market. The standards here are different. We want the vendors to try to be creative and colorful with their food. We definitely would like people to dress up the food and do some branding.
626 Night MarketTaiwanese sausages from Java Cafe
SI: And now for the fun stuff. What about the food?
JH: There's a wide range. Well, I know the stinky tofu might be a little bit controversial. That will be a mixed fad. But we'll be having beef noodle soup and some of the popular Taiwan foods like pig ears, bean curd, Taiwanese sausages and seaweed. We'll also have Japanese takoyaki. Not only Chinese food, but Japanese, Indonesian, Filipino food. We even have fusion food like Chinese mixed with Mexican. There's 80 vendors total. We'll have different desserts like the famous Chinese shaved ice and bubble tea drinks.
SI: What's the general price range for the foods?
JH: The vendors definitely wanted to support the idea of a Asian night market where people go around to get different foods. It won't be the same portions you get at a restaurant and the price point will match that. I'd say it'll be in the three to six dollar range. That way people can get more than one serving -- almost like finger food style. We don't want it to be like a food truck festival.
SI: Finally, what's your favorite Taiwanese xiao chi, or "small eat"?
JH: The Taiwanese pig ear. I think I like it because it's really crunchy because of the cartilage. I know that sounds really weird.
Check out this link to their KickStarter video:
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