By John Liu
Every Wednesday, I walked into Chinatown’s Green Village restaurant, not knowing that April 9 would be the last time I could pick up food from Wendy Lu, the owner. Green Village closed on April 10.
It has been my weekly routine for almost a year. Wendy was her usual chirpy self and greeted me in the same friendly mode, “How are you?” Green Village was one of the few restaurants that were cash only, so I always had $7.98 in exact change for the House Special Fried Rice and Hot and Sour Soup. “See you later!” Wendy would say as she handed over my fried rice and soup. She didn’t show any signs of emotions.
To tell you the truth, I have always been fonder of the soup than the fried rice. Don’t get me wrong, the fried rice is also good, but it’s the soup that all my friends talk about the most. It was just so savory and delicious. Green Village makes it the way I like every time. There are only a few Chinatown restaurants that give you soup to go.
One time they ran out of soup and I wanted to go somewhere else to eat. I figured that would be embarrassing, so I still got my usual fried rice order.
The next day, I was shocked to see my friend sharing a Facebook link that read, “Dumplings on a Seder Plate: The Closing of Green Village Restaurant.” I couldn’t believe it and thought it was a joke. But as I read the article, it became apparent it was not. I have to wonder why this sad news was mixed into an article about Passover.
Eventually it made sense. The Gastrognome blog was about journeys and it has been a tough one for Wendy. She explained the difficulty of juggling running a restaurant and taking care of her sick son several years ago. It was also difficult for her to face the tragic death of her mute father, Lu Chun-O, an artist, who was hit by a bus. The bus driver didn’t know that he was deaf, so he just kept honking at Chun-O to move. Chun-O didn’t because he couldn’t hear the sound. He died within a short period after the accident.
I’m grateful I was able to enjoy one last meal before it was closed. I still have my leftover fried rice sitting in the refrigerator. Should I finish it or take it to the Wing Luke Museum to display for a generation who will never get to experience Wendy’s House Special Fried Rice?
By Assunta Ng
When Green Village Restaurant first opened in 1979, it was a small place on the second floor of an old building at 721 S. King St. What made us frequent the Green Village was not that it was the first Chinese restaurant serving Northern-style Chinese food among a sea of Chinatown’s Cantonese restaurants. It was that there were a couple of irresistible entrees. My favorite was the Siuchuan Bon Bon chicken. Its sauce was amazing. No other Chinese restaurant has been successful in creating Bon Bon sauce.
A fire struck the building. Green Village was relocated to Pioneer Square, then outside the city. It added another fast food restaurant on Sixth Avenue South, its current location. Business boomed as soon as it opened. I was disappointed that Bon Bon chicken was never included in its fast food menu. Soon, there were dozens of restaurants opening in the area. Competition was intense, but Wendy’s personal touch and service were remarkable. She remembers all the customers by name and greets them with a smile. And she never forgets to say “thank you” to customers.
The family’s been through a lot of tragedies, including the death of Wendy’s son, a young nephew, and her father. Her parents were born deaf, but none of the six children had hearing disabilities. They communicate in sign language. Her father even founded a club for the deaf. A skilled artist and calligraphist, he painted all kinds of subjects with speed and precision.
Customers were surprised that Wendy hadn’t left a note at the door to explain her restaurant’s closure. The lights were out when I walked by. The silence and emptiness inside the restaurant were hard for friends and customers to bear.
I was able to get hold of Wendy on April 16. She was moved by all her fans’ support and calls. “I just need to rest for a long time,” she said. “The past few years, many things have happened, many tragic deaths in my family as well as my customers’. I can’t take it any more. I am overwhelmed. I just want to rest. I can’t do too much. I can’t say too much. I just don’t know right now what to say.”
Perhaps Wendy did write a note to her fans six years ago in the Asian Weekly, Dec. 2008, when the restaurant was closed for more than a year after her son’s death. She wrote, “We didn’t really publicize or advertise the reopening because we have not recovered from our sadness and pain.
“However, we are beginning to slowly reawaken. It’s not because we have taken any special medicine, but because we have been touched by your warmth and concern.
“Our hearts are filled with mixed emotions. Although our business was closed for one year, we found that we were not abandoned. No words can describe our gratitude…No matter how many times we say thank you, we can’t really express the deep gratitude we feel in our heart.
“Green Village’s greatest achievement is having the honor of serving the Chinatown/International District area for 30 years. Wendy said there is a possibility that she might reopen the restaurant. “I owe responsibilities to my customers,” she said. “I just can’t face my customers with a sad face.” Given what she had gone through, Wendy needs space and time to heal.
To Wendy and the Lu family: Thank you for running Green Village for over 30 years. We wish you the best and will always miss you. (end)