Living

Ever Wonder What the Staff Eats at a Chinese Restaurant?

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A little after nine o’clock, Ricky Ker sits down for dinner at a back table of Goodies, his restaurant on East Broadway, with a waitress or two. The only customers in the plain, small dining room are a young couple and a few Russian tourists—they might have come because the Shanghainese food is recommended by Zagat, and the soup dumplings are a must-order. The staff, however, is dining tonight on winter melon soup and a plate of stir-fried pork liver and stomach. “We always have one soup and one dish,” head waitress Jojo explains. Ker likes white pepper in his soup, and shakes some into a visitor’s cup as well. The winter melon, a big, bland fruit, has been shredded and boiled in water and salty chicken stock, with a healthy dose of cilantro tossed in at the end. It’s simple, cheap stuff, but tasty.

When it comes to the various pig elements, Ker grins and offers just a taste in case it doesn’t go over well with the outsider. But the innards, particularly the tripe, are delicious. The liver is aggressive, cut into thin, triangular, iron-intensive slabs, but the pieces of stomach are tender and mild, tasting fatty and carrying the soy sauce and ginger nicely. Slices of hot green pepper break the intensity, and the visitor has seconds. Jojo, who has been at Goodies for two and a half years, says she tries not to eat too much organ meat anymore because “you get everything the animal ate, and they have chemicals now.” Ker laughs at this, pointing to her plate. “You’re eating liver, though.” Yes, she giggles, “but not every day.”

The staff communicates mostly in Mandarin, but Ker and Jojo, plus two of the three other waitresses, are from Malaysia. Ker came to New York in 1998 and, through an employment agency, got a cashier job at the original Goody’s in Rego Park. When the owners opened a Manhattan location in 2000, Ker was transferred to Chinatown, still working as a cashier. But four years later, when the place was struggling financially, Ker saw an opportunity and worked out a deal to take over the lease. He changed the spelling and even had it trademarked last year, but, wisely, he kept the cooks.

Ker’s oldest daughter now has a master’s degree in global economy, and he sounds like he’s been studying the same subject. He talks a lot about marketing and came up with a slogan for the place: “Good food, good times, good luck, at Goodies.” When diners get their bill at the end of a meal, it’s delivered with a scratch-off lottery card—that’s the luck part. Once, someone won $500. The Russian tourists win some money, but they leave it for the staff.

Tonight, Jojo and another waitress, Kimberly, feel like making dessert for family meal: a room-temperature soup of oats, brown sugar, and water. At a quarter to 10, when all the customers are gone, Jojo divvies up the tips. But the food is good to the last drop: The newest waitress stands in the back, draining the last of her sweet soup from a plastic container.