We had the good fortune of connecting with John Wang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi John, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
I don’t consider the Queens Night Market a success story, per se. We haven’t minted money, and really have just barely squeaked by for most of its existence. But where we have succeeded, I think, is in our nearly obsessive pursuit to be NYC’s most affordable, diverse, and welcoming community space. It’s not just that the mission is our north star internally, it’s that our mission is a recognizable and integral part of our brand in the public consciousness. That’s where I think we’ve really succeeded.
In terms of the most important factor in our “success”, it probably has to do with not compromising our values for the sake of the bottom line or for convenience. We could have let go of our unique price caps or turned the event into a ticketed attraction or loosened our curatorial parameters, and the event would probably be a cash cow as a result… but each of those tweaks would have incrementally compromised our mission, which I think is a slippery slope we’d rather not start down.
We’ve prioritized our social mission over profitability, which is why any success we’ve ostensibly had is probably located much more in the social realm than the financial realm.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
It was a meandering path to get to where I am now. And even where I am now is probably not so much a destination as a waystation.
I triple-majored in college, and still didn’t know what I wanted to do. Went to law school and business school, and still didn’t know what I wanted to do. Became a corporate lawyer to pay off my students loans as quickly as possible…. and then once those were paid off, I took a big risk trying to start the Queens Night Market.
I really had no business (or background) trying to start an event. And for sure, it hasn’t been very lucrative. But in some ways, not having any kind of background or expertise in event planning or production was kind of a blessing. It meant I didn’t know what paradigms I was breaking, and didn’t understand why everyone was telling me what I envisioned wasn’t possible in NYC.
If I were an industry veteran, I probably would have seen all the challenges we faced coming from a mile away and steered clear. But since I was a total novice, our mission guided us through every step and decision, which has probably been the secret sauce, if there is such a thing.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Oh man. So hard to list! A random, hodgepodge list in no particular order: Mamoun’s
Jackson Heights for Tibetan food
Overpriced, indulgent omakase at one of the myriad amazing sushi spots in NYC
Weekday daydrinking/happy hours in West Village or East Village
Flushing for all manner of dumplings and noodle soups
AYCE Korean BBQ somewhere
Street tacos somewhere
West African food somewhere
Overpriced speakeasy where you have to say some silly password or press some silly button?
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There would never be enough space for all the thanks that need to go around.
The short, short list includes 1) the hundreds of talented and passionate vendors, on whose shoulders the event squarely rests upon; 2) the volunteers (especially Kyle, Sharon, Rena, and Sarah) who have donated countless Saturday nights over the last seven years; 3) to New York City and the visitors who support our vendors and celebrate the diversity that we try to engender; and 4) to my wife Storm Garner, for her support and letting Queens Night Market subsume my life on a pretty regular basis.
Storm Garner, Sharon Medina, Olivia Guillotin