Restaurant owner celebrates 25 years of China City

For Jack Ng, the American Dream has become a reality with success of his Chinese restaurants.

For Jack Ng, the American Dream has become a reality with the continued success of his Chinese restaurants.

This year, the Freeland resident celebrates a quarter century of China City, which has two locations on Whidbey Island.

At the age of 12, Ng immigrated from the Guangdong province of China to Skagit County; he recalled growing up in a village in China with no running water or electricity. His family members worked at and later owned several Chinese restaurants in Anacortes and Mount Vernon, which was where Ng learned how to cook and wash dishes.

Learning English as a teenager was challenging, and Ng ended up dropping out of high school to work full-time, which included fishing boats in Alaska.

“Most of the time I fell asleep in the classroom,” Ng said.

In 1999, he started China City in Oak Harbor with his family at the age of 21. The restaurant was in a few different locations before moving to its current spot on Highway 20.

At one point, China City had a second location in Langley before settling in Freeland. The South Whidbey location is currently temporarily closed for renovations.

Ng marveled at the price of two new pieces of equipment he purchased for the remodel, which he said cost more than what it did to start the original China City.

“Back in the day, we had to empty our pockets to open the first restaurant,” he said.

In 2014, Ng ventured across the water to open the first China City location on the mainland in Mill Creek. Within the past few years, he also opened the Muse Whiskey Bar and Coffee Shop and Fisherman Jack’s on the Everett waterfront.

Ng is now the CEO of NGMA Group, the restaurant company he owns with his wife that includes China City and his other business ventures. According to a Puget Sound Business Journal article, NGMA Group has a total of 180 employees and $13 million in revenue.

“People always say, ‘How do you do this?’” Ng said. “I just work hard.”

And he isn’t afraid to return to his roots. When Fisherman Jack’s first opened, Ng found himself back in the kitchen. He cooked every day for two months straight because the restaurant was so shorthanded.

Ng and his wife, Jin Ma, now have a home in Guangdong – the Chinese province where he grew up – and learn from the Michelin star restaurants they visit.

“I love cooking at home,” Ng said. “When we taste something we like, we come back and play with it.”

One of the biggest challenges throughout the years has been finding reliable staff, which has been exacerbated by the shortage of service workers on Whidbey Island.

“It’s been great to have such loyal customers in the community,” he said. “Right now we have amazing staff that really makes it successful.”