As any restaurant owner will tell you, a restaurant is like a home, where people come to spend time together, to celebrate, and to de-stress from the routine of every-day living.
Some customers come in once in a while, like the friends you see occasionally. Others, we call “the regulars,” come often and typically on the same day of the week. These customers almost become our family, as we get to know them. They talk about their own families and their trials and tribulations. They smile when we bring their favorite drink to the table even before they order it, and we smile because we feel honored that they make our restaurant a place where they can come and they can feel comfortable—like with family.
That was the case with two of my favorite customers, Frank and Lydia, 89 and 93-years young respectively. They had the good fortune to have been married for a very long time. Every Saturday in the early afternoon, like clockwork, they came over to Yu’s Garden Chinese Restaurant. They typically ordered General Tso’s Shrimp, Crispy Duck and Mongolian Beef. I would sit by them and we would talk and joke for hours. It felt like family.
One Saturday in January, when they did not come at their usual time, we became worried. A visit from their daughter later on in the day, confirmed our worries. Frank had passed away from a heart attack earlier that week, and Lydia was in the hospital recuperating from a car accident she had gotten into while following the ambulance. Luckily, after a couple of weeks, she was able to return home. There is an old Chinese love proverb that states, “Don’t ask to be born on the same day, but hope to die on the same day.” It almost happened to our friends, and in a sense, it did. Lydia recently called me and we both cried and reminisced together: we talked about the great Saturdays we spent together and we cried about the loss.
When something like this happens, it is as if a part of the restaurant goes missing, since it is “the regulars” that bring in their personalities and make our places what they are, contributing to every aspect of success.
Lydia, I will bring you some Crispy Duck soon! In the meantime, Frank, I hope the Chinese restaurants in Heaven make General Tso’s Shrimp just they way you like it!