When I first opened Emerald, there were only automotive dealers and a couple of other Chinese restaurants on Convoy Street, which closed when the owners retired. My two partners and I bought a piece of land on Convoy inside the “Golden Triangle,” the area between the 163, 805, and 52. We built a strip mall and had an agreement with a Chinese restaurant to open on the premises. They backed out when the economy entered a recession. One of my partners, my brother Check Y. Ng, suggested opening a restaurant ourselves.
We really owed it to San Diego to open a high-quality, authentic Chinese restaurant, especially a Cantonese restaurant. I travel to Asia quite a lot— anybody who’s ever visited Hong Kong probably realizes that Chinese food there is very different from what you find in North America.
At that time, the dishes available at Emerald were chop suey, egg rolls, and egg foo young. I always felt embarrassed about that. I thought, “How can we introduce real Chinese food so people can really experience it?”
At first, the restaurant was very small. We had lines of people waiting outside. Now it’s double the original size.
In 1992, when the Rodney King incident erupted into riots, many Korean businesses from Los Angeles moved to San Diego. First, Asian groceries began to open on Convoy. When people came to shop, they wanted to dine, so Asian restaurants started popping up, too.
We opened Pearl, our sister restaurant, in Rancho Bernardo in 2004. I remember we opened on the day my granddaughter was born.
Three years ago, my brother wanted to retire. I’m a real estate developer and I’m not able to run restaurants anymore. We decided to sell the restaurants to Shania and Ben Wong, who live in LA. They were our food suppliers and knew we ran a good business. I preferred to sell to them because I knew they’d keep my chef and my staff. Nothing changed except for the ownership.
I’m happy that the Asian community is speaking up about anti-Asian sentiment. Racism is not right. My great-grandparents and my husband’s great-grandparents were part of the first wave of Chinese immigrants who helped build America in the 1800s. They labored in mining and railroads. I’m a fourth-generation American.
The pandemic has hurt businesses, and it has probably hurt the restaurant industry more than any other type of business. Asian entrepreneurs are very resilient. I think when businesses can fully reopen, the restaurants will bounce back. I’m hoping that Convoy Street will continue to expand. Now that the city has changed the zoning policy to allow for higher density and residential housing, it will make Convoy Street an Asian destination. I’m very optimistic that the area will continue to grow. Not only are you seeing traditional Chinese restaurants, but you see smaller places that serve Korean fried chicken and poke. I’m so excited to see so many of the younger generation opening restaurants. I’m very bullish about Convoy.