GREENVILLE—With the announcement this week in reference to China Garden closing its doors, local businessman Eric Fee is planning to hold a send-off event at that venue at 6 p.m. Sept. 21.
Fee is asking well-wishers to bring cards and memories to share with Richard and Carrie Chui, owners of China Garden.
“After 33 years the best Chinese restaurant is closing,” Fee said. “Let’s give them the best send-off ever.
If you have ever been there, you’ll know the care and personal touch Richard and Carie give. Let’s show them the love they have shown us over the years.”
The Chuis and Fees are not only friends, but are neighbors at the Country Club Estates off of U.S. 36-East.
“Great people,” Fee said. “I’m just thinking of having a notebook or something for people to leave memories of what they mean to them. That was the first Chinese food I ever had and it got me hooked. I went there (China Garden) at least five times a week when I was single. I about starved when they closed up for six weeks when he went overseas to marry Carrie. It was my mother’s favorite place and we would meet once a week for lunch before she passed away. I have so many memories, it’s very sad. I always got cashew chicken spicy, no mushrooms. I didn’t have to order, they just started making it when I walked in.”
China Garden, it was noted in a statement on its website, “is a cornerstone in the Greenville community and has been recognized for its outstanding Chinese cuisine, excellent service and friendly staff. The Chinese restaurant is known for its modern interpretation of classic dishes and its insistence on only using high quality fresh ingredients.”
Richard, who does most of the cooking, said there are a couple of reasons why they have chosen to close the doors of the business.
“The main reason is we’re short of help and we’re so busy,” he said. “For the past few years, I have worked by myself in the kitchen and it’s an overload for me. It is 12 to 14 hours a day, because we are always prepping. We’re so tired.”
Another downside to the job, he said, are the pains and aches he is experiencing in his joints, especially the fingers and his shoulder. Carrie, he added, is having some of those same issues.
“I’m almost 52,” said Richard. “Our kids are all grown and out of the house. Before, they helped out.”
Now located on Wagner Avenue, China Garden had its beginnings on South Broadway in downtown Greenville. Then, it was owned by his father, Dennis, who started it there in 1989. Dennis, for quite a few years, cooked the food there before he retired, and Richard took over. Subsequently, the patriarch of the family died Jan. 8, 2017, at the age of 72.
“When I first came to America in 1985, I did dishes by hand for my aunt in Waterville, Ohio,” Richard recalled. “She then promoted me to the grill and we did a lot of American cuisine…hamburgers and salads. I liked the business.”
Richard, who graduated from a high school near Toledo, Ohio, in 1989, said it was about that time his father decided to go into the restaurant business.
“Mom had eight siblings and all owned restaurants at eight different locations in America,” Richard said. “My dad and uncles taught me how to cook.”
The move to Wagner Avenue from South Broadway, Richard believes, was a good decision.
“We have more opportunities here and better parking,” he said. “We have a drive-thru with tons of carry-outs. When we came here, we gained new customers, passersby who started noticing us.”
He liked the Broadway location as well.
“We had lunch crowds there and, for supper, we do better here,” he said.
The menu at China Garden has not changed over the years.
“Unless it’s with the prices,” Richard pointed out.
He and Carrie met through Richard’s aunt and cousins on a visit they made to China.
“My wife used to play with my cousins,” he said.
The couple was then married in the mid-1980s in China, and, then when they came back to America, a smaller ceremony was held for those who could not attend it.
Their children are Darren, a Bowling Green State University graduate; Alex, a graduate of Purdue; and Amanda, a junior at Ohio State University.
They would help out at the family restaurant while in high school and during college breaks.
“Carrie worked as a waitress in China and had restaurant experience,” Richard said. “She really loves it in Greenville and wants to stay here.”
What are their plans for the future?
“Now, we want to relax and get our bodies healed up, and I might look into getting a part-time job,” he said. “Maybe, I will get back into golfing.”
Meanwhile, in their rare, spare time, he helps Carrie, who will be 49 on Dec. 29, with her garden which produces flowers and vegetables.