Hi there, I’m Albert! I am so proud to be the second intern at Garnish Studios, following the great Ella Chang. A bit about me – I graduated from Harvard University last December, where I studied Art and Computer Science, and started working as a design intern at Garnish in March. Folks, I’m reporting in after about four months here, and in short, it has been one of the most magical experiences of my life.
I first stumbled into Garnish Studios as a severely unemployed college graduate. Two weeks into New York and running out of truly depressing side-gigs, I had decided to take matters into my own hands: I was going to dive head-first into the city and start cold-pitching myself in person to companies (and whoever wouldn’t call the police on me). Garnish Studios was the very first studio I walked into.
The first thing I saw: a golden retriever wearing a gigantic pool floatie, blasting towards me. The next thing - five chairs turned towards me, waiting to see what the hell I was doing in their ridiculously cute plant-filled white-brick Brooklyn studio. I tried my very best to introduce myself, but most everything else was a blur. I walked out holding a card with everyone’s names and emails written gently and neatly. I remember Taylor, then just a person who sat at the right-most desk, kindly offering me a chair for me to sit in and saying “Dude, you have like huge balls for doing this,” which really boosted my self-esteem.
So it is no exaggeration to say that I was hired straight off the street. Over coffee, Thi, the big boss who seems more like your older cousin than your big boss, made his condition of hire clear: “What matters is that you want to be here. If you’re actually excited to do this thing with everyone else, you get to be here.” That meant carrying the sandbags with everyone else and being ready to grind a production running hours late, it meant taking the hard stuff as much as the fun stuff. And true to his word, without even a glance at my resume, I was hired.
Xi'an Famous Foods
The first project Thi placed me on was none other than Xi’an Famous Foods, the legendary Anthony-Bourdain-approved Flushing-certified quick-and-dirty noodle joint that every New Yorker swears by (and would murder you if you fucked up the brand). The team was me, Thi, and Cam, a Figma wizard who actually has long hair and a beard. The job: to rebrand Xi’an Famous Foods.
We were tasked to redesign their logo, website, and the package design. Over the past three months, I drafted in Figma with the team, presented our ideas to Jason Wang, the big man at Xi’an Famous Foods, and ate plenty of hand-pulled noodles. Because this was just a team of three, my ideas always had room to shine. It’s an amazing feeling to see your ideas take a life of its own, as Cam and Thi riff and transform it into something more, and to see the CEO of Xi’an Famous Foods react with delight to the small details you came up with.
To this day, I consider it a miracle that I was let anywhere near a project like this. I think it says a lot about Thi that he placed his trust in me to do a good job. Because of that, I felt a strong ownership over my work and wanted to make him proud . He places this kind of trust in all of his crewmates and it shows - everyone's ride or die on this whole operation.
Everything culminated when just last week when we did a photoshoot at Xi’an Famous Food's central kitchen. I got to work alongside both Jason and his dad, who after more than a decade of fame and success, were still as hands-on, hard-working, and dedicated as I imagine they were grinding out of a hole-in the-wall stall in Queens. As a kid, my parents always brought me to Xi’an Famous Foods when we visited New York City. In my mind, they were always the standard for no-frills New York Chinese food, and now I was able to work with the legendary duo who started it all. So Mom, Dad, I made it! One day, if you see Xi’an Famous Food’s Chili Oil shining like a bright beacon in the dark sea of trendy chili oils, you’ll know who to thank.
Production Assistance and Hand-Modeling
Besides design work, I wanted to shoutout my favorite experience being a production assistant. Despite the professionalism everyone does their work with, it’s just so much fun:
Here’s how I would describe being at Garnish: it feels like if your parents sent you to your cool older cousin’s place for the summer, and by some stroke of luck, he decided to let you roll with his crew, and they bring you along for the entire ride. You not only get to witness all the cool projects they’re working on, but you’re expected to pitch in as much as everyone else is.
It often feels more like hanging out with your friends than clocking into your 9-to-5. Heating leftovers often turns into an entire studio-involved spam-ramen-chili-oil cooking session, leftover meat becomes cause for a full-blown barbeque on a steamy Friday afternoon, and a walk with Spoons leads to a skateboarding and biking break out in our parking lot. Somehow, everyone’s head circumference has been measured by an old charging cable (I don’t know if I should be disappointed that my head size is average).
Of course, this isn’t to say we’re paid to goof off. We put in the elbow grease when the time comes, but what I think this feeling speaks to, is the kind of community of Thi has built. Thi reads people by their goodwill, excitement, and trustworthiness much more than the skill or talent they have. And come time to work, it shows. Whether I’m in the studio or at a shoot, I know there’s nowhere I’d rather be but here, and it’s an amazing feeling when everyone else in the room feels that too.
In our last week, Thi texted all of us: “CANCEL YOUR FRIDAY PLANS.” He brought us on a boat.
Viewing the Manhattan skyline, surrounded by these wonderful people, I had a hard time believing just a few months ago, I was sleeping alone on the floor of my apartment (freezing because my landlord refused to turn on the heat), discouraged and wondering whether it was a mistake to even come to New York at all.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you to Thi, Ella, Taylor, Derek for welcoming me in this strange city. You guys have come to feel like family. I've learned and been inspired more than you know. I'll hold you guys close to my heart as I leave the city and head to grad school in the middle of nowhere. 🥲❤️