Jessie Wang

Prospect Heights, NYC
Prospect Heights' Bierwax is the vibe we didn't know we needed. As the name suggests, this craft beer-focused bar not only serves up one of the most finely curated tap-lists, but also boasts over 5,000 vinyl records lining the walls. A little before opening one week day, we sat down with Jessie Wang, assistant manager, to talk shop, and sip sours.
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Full name, age where are you from?

Jessie Wang, 24. I’m from Queens, NY but currently I reside in Brooklyn.

What was growing up like for you and did you have family meals growing up?

Food was a means of communication throughout my childhood. My parents are immigrants from China who came here for a new life, as the story goes. They worked all the time so I didn’t see them much in my earlier years. I had meals with my brother and my grandmother but my parents made sure we had fresh groceries. We all moved to Louisiana when I was 8 to open a Chinese restaurant where I had my first job. Almost all of our meals took place at the restaurant then. We huddled together for lunch and dinner between work, as you would see at almost every Asian family-style restaurant. Eating together was a time of decompression and our way of showing affection even if nothing was said. We ended up being displaced after Hurricane Katrina and were scattered for a few years. My brother and I stayed at family friends’ and my parents were living in a hotel for evacuees in Jamaica, Queens. It went like that for a while. We moved around a bunch and someone was always separated for one reason or another but we always made the effort to eat together whenever we could. My Chinese is terrible and it’s hard to communicate with my family so food is our main love language and remains our place of comfort.

What meal most reminds you of your childhood?

Fujianese Wonton Soup with extra vinegar and scallions. I would watch my grandmother make the little wontons and wait until she steams them and set them aside before dropping them into hot broth. That was the optimal time to steal some for a quick snack. The meat would be cooked but the ends of the wonton skin were still raw and crunchy. It was mad good. I always got yelled at because I would be pretty full by the time the actual soup was ready.

How did you get into this industry?

It’s kind of a random story. I’ve been in the restaurant industry since I was 8 and worked part-time all the way through college, so I had a bunch of service experience but beer was a completely new world. I was introduced to craft beer in October of 2018 while on a brewery tour in Boston. It was my first time trying different styles of beer and all the flavor palettes surprised me. On that trip I also decided to make an Instagram. I was new to social media so I just followed a bunch of DJs in New York and started going to shows. I love the 90’s, the history and music of hip hop, the styles and all things old school—and so, Bobbito Garcia aka Koolboblove posted that he was spinning at this place called BierWax. I was prepared to enter a full-blown club but I walked into a small cozy little bar with Bobbito spinning about 4 feet to my left. I was a little intimidated by the tap list since I didn’t know of any of the beers or styles, so under pressure I randomly ordered a coconut stout, and it was fireee. My interest in beer peaked even more but I was there for Bobbito. I introduced myself and we got to talking, then he pulled Chris Maestro aside, the owner of BierWax, and introduced us. This was December 29, 2018. On New Years day I moved to Midwood, Brooklyn (from Queens) a couple of miles south of the bar. BierWax felt like one of the last true New York places in Brooklyn, especially in the middle of a gentrified neighborhood. It became my go-to, I would come every week to see who was spinning and what beers they had on tap. I was very new to the beer scene so I loved the rotating menu and felt like I could learn a lot just by coming to the bar. So that with being in the presence of legendary DJs and having incredibly humbling conversations, I felt at home for the first time. After a few months, I sent an email to Chris inquiring about any job opportunities. At first he wasn’t looking to hire and I didn’t have any bar tending experience. I was actually working in cancer research but I dished out my years of service experience. We met up to chat and ended up learning about a bunch of things we had in common. For instance, we grew up blocks away from each other in Flushing, Queens, love vinyl and underground hip hop, both graduated from the SUNY Binghamton, we’re both Leos and so forth. It also turned out I had seen Chris way before I even heard of BierWax. He was in the documentary “Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives.” I remember thinking “yo who the fuck is this guy,” and there he was. I like to think the Universe looks out for you through coincidences. Anyway, a week after our meeting I had my first bartending shift and the rest is history. BierWax brought me into this industry and I’ve learned that it’s so much more than just beer and drinking, especially POC in this industry. So many different people bring their unique perspectives and passions to create diversity, innovation, and representation in this space. We’re pushing culture and cultivating a community and it feels dope to be a part of a bigger picture.

What is your current role and how has the pandemic affected you?

Assistant Manager, social media manager, events coordinator, bartender, cook, and whatever else I can do! This pandemic has been breaking us down and forcing us to rebuild anew. I had just left my 9-5 to spend more time at the bar right before quarantine hit. I knew a bunch of people in healthcare and had friends who were really suffering. I was saddened by the state of the world and everyone affected. My anxiety escalated during the protests and it was really hard to find hope. I reached out and gave my support where I could but nothing felt enough. I took a lot of time for self-care and tried to take it day by day. I’m still trying to find my peace within it all. I’m beyond grateful I still have a job and was able to work this whole time. I’m extremely grateful for my support system. This place is my home and I would do anything to hold it down. I think the pandemic solidified that. I’m hopeful as we remain open and continue to serve.

What do you think working in this industry during this time has taught you?

Resilience, perseverance, and community. During quarantine we only did to-go sales and people really came through to support us. It was touching to see how much we meant to our customers and how important it was to keep our space alive so we could continue to give back to the community. Service and hospitality workers are in the business of taking care of people. We provide experiences and hold room for empathy regardless of who you are. I think a lot of people got to experience that here and reciprocated the energy.

What's your favorite item on this menu?

We have a rotating beer list so unfortunately nothing stays on the menu for too long but my current favorite is Finback’s Sound of Color, which is a delicious watermelon gose. You can throw it back easy. Off menu we have an incredible double smash burger created by one of our bartenders. It was a part of our Food Program launch, but with all the complications in Cuomo’s new policies we had to change course.

Once it is completely safe to eat out again and socialize, where is the first place you would go for dinner?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I miss the food in Queens so I would probably fast for 24 hours and go in. I could honestly just stay in Flushing: Korean fried chicken at the Coop, hand-pulled noodles at Golden Mall, soup dumplings at Nan Xiang, chilli wontons at White Bear, hotpot everywhere...Picnic Garden for KBQ on Northern and before leaving I would stop by Cherry Valley and grab some heroes. Or... I would go to Trattoria L'incontro in Astoria. I like to eat so it just depends on my mood.

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