China Restaurant now open on Highway 169
It took a few months longer than they had anticipated, but the owners of the new China Restaurant in Blue Earth finally were able to open the doors on Aug. 11.
Lisa Zheng and her husband Kinh Hong began remodeling the former Family Dollar store on Highway 169 back in April.
“We had planned to be open in June,” Zheng says. “But then my husband was hurt and that delayed our work.”
Hong was injured when he fell off the walk-in cooler he was assembling in the kitchen and severely broke his leg.
Hong is the head chef at the restaurant, so the couple wanted to wait until he was healed enough to run the kitchen.
Zheng and Hong are certainly not newcomers to running a Chinese restaurant. He has been a cook for more than 30 years, she has worked with him for the past 21 years.
It was 20 years ago when Hong moved to Fairmont from Dallas, Texas, to become a partner in a Chinese restaurant.
Eight months later, Zheng moved to Fairmont as well. Three years later they bought out the partner and owned the restaurant by themselves.
Then, in 2004, the couple leased out the restaurant in Fairmont and moved to Austin to run a restaurant there.
But, two years later they were back in Fairmont and took over their previous restaurant for the next five years.
Last year, on Dec. 9, they sold the Fairmont restaurant.
Zheng says the reason they decided to open a new restaurant in Blue Earth is totally because of the couple’s son, Tony Hong.
“He found this building for us,” Zheng says. “He is always looking around for things.”
Tony Hong says he checked out several area towns, just to see what was available in each one.
“I talked to Wade Barslou (of Barslou Realty) here and he had a couple of buildings available, but this was the best deal,” Hong says. “I like to look around for really good opportunities.”
So far, Zheng says, son Tony’s push to come to Blue Earth has been a great idea.
“We have been very busy since we opened,” she says. “We have heard many nice comments about the food and the decor.”
Plus, she says, there are really nice people who live here and have stopped in.
“They have all made us feel welcome,” she adds. “Many have said they are so happy that we are here and they hope we will stay a long, long time.”
Tony Hong says one negative comment has been that the restaurant does not have a buffet.
“But, when people see the large portions that we serve, they realize it is a very good deal,” he adds. “We hand out a lot of boxes for them to take some home.”
So far, the restaurant has been doing a lot of take out orders as well having a good number of dine in customers.
“We have a very extensive menu,” Hong says. “There is certainly something for everyone.”
Zheng says they are seeing quite a number of their loyal customers from Fairmont coming to the new Blue Earth location.
“They like our new look here,” she says. “Everyone says it looks very nice.”
The decor has some interesting background. Tony Hong says it is an intriguing mix of old Chinese and modern American.
Kinh Hong traveled to China Town in New York City to purchase the booths, tables and chairs.
“He called back and said he bought the nicest ones he could find,” Zheng says. “And also that they were the most expensive.”
The couple’s niece, who works at the restaurant as a waitress, was on a vacation trip to China and brought back the draperies that hang in the front window, some other decor items, and authentic Chinese clothing the staff wears as uniforms.
Tony Hong’s addition to the decor is the large stone dividing wall that contains a see-through fireplace and large screen televisions on either side.
“We wanted to divide the restaurant,” Zheng says. “So we could have an area for parties or meetings and still have room for our regular customers.”
Tony Hong says he looked at other restaurants and thought a dividing wall like this works well.
“It’s more modern and looks both Chinese and American,” he says.
Hong has been his parents ‘go-to’ guy during all the construction, and still is working as a waiter at the restaurant.
“He has been my good helper,” his mother says.
But, all that came to a halt this past weekend when the 21-year-old packed up and headed back to college at the University of Minnesota.
“I will still be back on most weekends to help out,” he says.
His parents have three other children.
Their oldest daughter, Jackie, is 22 and recently graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul. She is working in Madison, Wis.
The other two daughters are Paulina, 16, and Morgan, 9, who attend school in Fairmont. Both help out at the restaurant when they can.
The China Restaurant has three additional workers in the kitchen and four to five part-time employees in the dining room. They are still hiring more staff.
That is necessary, says Zheng, because they are open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
“We want to make sure we are open if someone comes to our restaurant,” she says. “We don’t want them to drive here and be disappointed we are not open.”
Zheng says she was very surprised how many people stopped in while they were remodeling the building asking when they would be open.
“I could not believe how many people showed up the first days we were open,” she says. “How did they know?”
Zheng says they really like being in Blue Earth and are happy they decided to come here.
“I really like it here, it is such a very nice place,” she says. “I didn’t expect that we would be this busy, because Blue Earth is a small town. But, we are really busy so far.”