A love affair with education

By Rhonda Dredge

The grounds of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) are still wrapped up in “iso-ribbon” with students not expected back until the end of the month.

But when they return a new Japanese beer garden will be waiting for them on campus.

Restaurateur Cheng Liu took the brave move of opening in the middle of the lockdown.

Betwixt must be one of the only restaurants to launch itself during a pandemic, at a time when most other businesses have been closing down.

“On the first day we took $86,” Cheng said, after investing almost $1 million in the year-long fit-out.

“We’re now taking ten times that,” he said.

The new Japanese-fusion restaurant is in an old heritage PMG building but it was integrated into the campus during the construction of the Conservatorium of Music.

“We could have waited but we were committed to our staff and we thought we should take some time to get familiar with the menu,” he said.

A miso Bolognese sauce is one invention by the chef, available for $15, as Betwixt tests out the menu on locals.

Cheng had two bars – the Homesick Café and Thubu Bar – on the Parkville campus and was offered the prime position on Southbank by the university after he was forced to close the bars when the buildings were redeveloped.

“We have a good relationship,” Cheng said, having moved to the new site even though renovations had been difficult and expensive.

Cheng worked in international trade and settled in Melbourne when his son refused to go back to China because of his liking for the school system here.

“Study is very hard in China. He was working until 10pm every night on homework. It was much more relaxed here. He jumped two levels.”

Cheng said he missed the community of Tianjin. “I’d like to read a novel in Chinese and see my old friends,” he said.

And the restaurant has been a headache. It costs $5000 a week to run and he has had to get financial support from a family trust in China until it is profitable.

“My son likes the freedom of choice here,” he said. He is a graduate of Melbourne University and works as an engineer.

“Sixty million students graduate from secondary school each year in China and there’s a lot of competition for university places.”

Just one third have the opportunity to go to university and Chen predicted that international students would want to return to their studies in Australia.

“If you go overseas to study, when you’re educated at Melbourne University or RMIT and go back to China, you get a job.”

Betwixt will be up and running by the time students return •

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