By Wyn Huynh, contributor

 202106 PekingGardenThe devastating results from the riots and looting on the day George Floyd was killed just a year ago have put many businesses out of business. Compounding with the blow of the COVID pandemic, many retail stores, restaurants and shops shuttered their doors — some permanently. A lucky few survived, however.

A beloved, long-time local staple, Peking Garden Restaurant in St Paul, is one of those lucky few. The restaurant was in business for carry-out only during the pandemic until the riots and looting happened on May 25, 2020. The restaurant, located in the Midway shopping mall next to the new Allianz Stadium, sustained fire, smoke and water damage, broken doors, and a busted cash register. Soon after, the landlord of the building decided to raze the structure. Left with no choices, Peking Garden closed its doors.

 

To many of its patrons, this was an unwelcome news. But a multi-generational family business created by Mr. Wu, 70, some 30 years ago, and now managed by his daughter, Mary, would not go under so easily. The family heard from so many customers who have touched them with their stories and memories at Peking Garden — stories of customers who have been loyal fans for multiple generations.

“Building this restaurant and serving you over the past 30 years has truly become a part of who we are. We are so touched by each of you and we sincerely hope that we will be able to rebuild and continue to serve you and your families again,” Elissa, Mary’s oldest daughter, posted on her Facebook page a few days after the looting occurred.

The Peking Garden family’s desire to rebuild and serve had prompted some of its loyal customers and friends, including me, to help.

On behalf of the Peking Garden Restaurant and my close friends, I created a GoFundMe account, “Keep Peking Garden Restaurant Alive.” The goal for the campaign was $16,000, and we raised $17,215, thanks to all generous fans and supporters. The majority of the fund was used as financial support to the kitchen staff who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic and the closure of the restaurant.

After 10 months of scouting for a new location and diligent work, the new Peking Garden Restaurant re-opened for carry-out only on March 18, 2021 at the former Vietnamese Mai Village restaurant on University Avenue (now owned by Hmong American Partnership).

With almost a year in anticipation, the new Peking Garden Restaurant is now open for dine-in service again. On May 20, a group of fans and supporters of Peking Garden were invited to the restaurant for an “appreciation dinner” feast. We were honored to witness the rebirth of the business, the hard work the family and staff have carried out, and, last but not least, the scrumptious Cantonese dishes that we have been missing for the last 12 months.

It was such a happy and humbling feeling I felt when I walked into the restaurant. The sprawling ornate dining room behind the gorgeous carved door and a wooden bridge over a koi pond are still there. “It’s a beautiful space that is pretty much made for us,” commented Mary. The interior of the restaurant was built almost two decades ago by Mai Village owners, Mai Nguyen and her husband, Ngoan Dang, who had sourced most of the hand-carved, dark wood furniture and decorations directly from Vietnam.

Familiar faces were again met for the first time since the pandemic lockdown at this gathering. Peking Garden family sibling, Mary, Tina and Tony were our gracious hosts and servers. Mr. Wu, the founder and chief chef of the Peking Garden, who had retired but now returned to work, made a short appearance from his busy kitchen duties to say hello. Unlike the usual “I’m-glad-you-enjoy-my-food,” every time we had a group dinner there, this time it was different. Wu’s face was beaming with joy and his eyes and smile were full of profound gratitude. A man of few words, “thank you, thank you …” His daughter Mary chimed in, “this GoFundMe money has really helped us and our kitchen staff during the shutdown. When we reopened, they (the kitchen staff) all came back.” As Minnesota State allows restaurants to open to near-full capacity, between the dining-in service and the carry-out orders, the Peking Garden staff barely have time to catch their breath.

As honored guests, we were treated with familiar delicious foods, one dish after another. We started out with corn egg drop soup, and my favorite Peking duck stuffed in soft white bun with cucumber, scallion and cilantro fixing. I have eaten this Peking duck dish from New York City to San Francisco to other Chinatown restaurants around the globe, and even in Hong Kong, I have to admit the Peking duck at the Peking Garden has the best-tasting piece of crisp -and succulent delicacy. Then came fried crab claws and chicken wings, delicate sweet peppers stuffed with shrimp paste and fried tofu and eggplants. To celebrate a special occasion, the not-to-miss dishes, such as eight-treasures-stuffed duck and pan-fried noodles with lobster and ginger scallion, were on the table. The foods didn’t just stop there: fresh stir-fried pea tips (my veggie favorite) and shrimp with walnut Hong Kong style, a creamy and savory dish, were also served, followed by chicken fried rice, chicken tofu stir-fried with shiitake mushrooms, and walleye stir-fried in onion and pepper. The dinner rounded out with fresh fruits and home-made donuts. Every dish was excellent. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Peking Garden staff.

We thank all donors of the GoFundMe campaign. Your generosity and words of encouragement have helped the Peking Garden Restaurant family get back on their feet. You have kept their business alive.  We thank you, Peking Garden Restaurant, for your resilience and continuity in serving the people of the Twin Cities.

The new Peking Garden Restaurant is located at 394 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55103. 651-644-0888. https://pekinggardenmn.com/.

 

Keywords: Peking Garden, Chinese restaurants, Mary Wu, Peking duck

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Ornate décor and koi pond of the former Mai Village remain at the reopened Peking Garden Restaurant.

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Loyal supporters at appreciation dinner.  Mary Wu (black top with red collar) and Wyn Huynh are second- and far right in the middle row.

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Crispy, succulent Peking duck

 

 

 

 

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