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'Everyone needs a little love': Sales are down, but care goes up for this Melbourne businessman

Jason Chang as a child (L) helped his dad at the family stall at the Queen Victoria Market. Source: Jason Chang

Jason Chang fondly remembers his days working alongside his late father at Melbourne’s iconic Queen Victoria Market. It's these childhood experiences that have led him to provide care packages for people worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Chang family migrated to Australia from southern China during the early 1960s in search of a better life.

Born and raised in Melbourne, Jason has gone onto establish a popular Japanese restaurant and retail brand in Melbourne.

Tracing his family's history of emigration and settlement in Australia, it’s easy to see how his experiences as a child led to where he is today.

It all began during the '60s when the family opened some of Melbourne's first Asian grocery stores, on Peel St, Elizabeth St and in Chinatown.

Jason Chang
Jason Chang as a child growing up in Melbourne.
Jason Chang

The family also opened the Fairy Stork Chinese Restaurant in St Kilda, which was one of Melbourne's first Chinese restaurants.

In the decade following, Jason’s father opened a fruit and vegetable stall at the Queen Victoria Market, the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere.

People shop at Queen Victoria Market hours before a citywide curfew is introduced in Melbourne.
File: People shopping at the Queen Victoria Market, which was established in the late 1860s.

Jason recalls the precious memories he made at the iconic market with his father and remembers that he was known by other vendors as the "child of the Queen Victoria Market". 

“Some of the fondest memories I have were waking up at 3am during school holidays and accompanying him to the market to set up for the day.

“I used to remember packing fruit into boxes and chatting with customers. Dad would then cook me fried rice when we reached home as a reward for my day’s work.”

Jason's dad was working at his fruit and vegetable stall in the Queen Victoria Market in the 1980s
Jason's dad working at his fruit and vegetable stall in the Queen Victoria Market during the 1980s
Jason Chang

Sadly, Jason’s father passed away in 1998 when Jason was just 12.

“For me, that left quite a devastating impact, and I always respected and looked up to my father as a small business person,” he said.

“But he left a lasting impression on me to pursue my goals but to stay true to my ethics and values.”

As Jason got older, he began to show an interest in business.

In his opinion, along with ensuring customers are given the best experience, the most important aspect of a business is to support the local community in any way possible.

Jason Chang
Jason Chang
Jason Chang

He co-founded the Japanese restaurant, Calia, in 2014, which was thriving in its first five years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Jason says his restaurant is among the countless businesses that have suffered financial losses as a result of lockdown measures.

Despite his current situation, he is deeply proud of the fusion of Eastern and Western cuisine that he has helped to establish at Calia, where he says “you can have an Australian roasted coffee while eating your roast pork bowl”.

“[Before COVID-19] usually we'd have a queue of between two to three hours for our restaurant in Melbourne.

“Now sales for our stores have been down about 90 per cent or more because of the lockdown in Melbourne especially.”

Although sales are down, Jason understands there are others doing it tougher.

“We are here to help as much as we can,” Jason said.

“We give out care packages to students, to the elderly and to aged care centres through donations to take care of them.”

care packages to the disadvantaged, elderly, students and those suffering financially in Melbourne
Care packages provided by Jason's restaurant for the disadvantaged, elderly, students and others suffering in Melbourne.
Jason Chang

So far Jason’s team has distributed almost 1000 care packages to the disadvantaged, elderly, students and those suffering financially in Melbourne due to the pandemic.

Each package includes face masks, sanitiser, tissues, rice, noodles and other snacks.

He also decided to assist aged care facilities during Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus infections.

He worked with the Gracevale Grange and Allbright Manor Residential Aged Care Facilities to donate food and snacks to its residents to brighten up their weeks.

“Everyone needs a little love.

“Mateship is vital, where you know you take care of those who are less fortunate and you know hopefully this keeps going stronger.”

As a child of Chinese migrants, he believes mateship is at the core of Australian values and he “just wants to give back to society and speak out for other migrants”.

His advocacy within the community is behind his decision to run in this year’s Melbourne City Council election.

“I want to give a voice to the Asian community but also to small business and to say that you know we've been unheard for so long.

“It's now time to show the world how much we contribute to Australian culture, to Australian society, and to the business world here.”

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