Opening a new restaurant in an old restaurant location can be risky business. You have to overcome either a poor reputation or a stellar one. In our case, we seem to be battling both.
For more than 30 years, 2600 High St. was home to the Far East Chinese restaurant. Our landlady, Lisa, ran the restaurant for the first 20 years. From everything we can gather, she did a good job. She bought the building and the adjoining mechanic’s garage. In the last 10 years, she rented the space to a tenant who continued to operate it as the Far East. I suspect that towards the end, he stopped caring; given the condition of the restaurant when we took over and from some stories I’ve heard from former customers. Not everyone had fond memories of the Far East, but for others, their memories are golden.
Die-hard fans grew up with the Far East. It was the place to hang out when they were in high school; it was one of the few Chinese restaurants that would deliver to black neighborhoods back then. They don’t recall the restaurant’s declining years when orders were reheated in a microwave or the dirty dining room.
The restaurant closed in late September, eight months before we opened. But many former customers are still shocked to find something new in its place.
I’ve started calling them the Far Easterners. I can watch them through the window. Once they realize this is not the Far East, they’ll walk away or drive off. Curiosity will get the better of some and they’ll venture inside. Sometimes they’ll say hello, marvel at the change, pick up a menu and then say goodbye. We understand; when you are in a mood for shrimp fried rice or kung pao chicken, nothing else will satisfy.
Sometimes they’ll order, but it’s a safe investment just to try us out _ a small order of French fries, a single hamburger, or one order of the wings. Our Hot Wings are the closest thing we have to the old Far East menu, which had featured fried wings. Ours are cooked to order and dipped in the super hot, habanero-based Island Fire sauce, or dipped in the house-made teriyaki sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Every single person who stayed and ate cleaned his or her plate and told me they enjoyed it _ even the guy who was in a big pout when he realized the Far East was gone but his girlfriend talked him in to staying. He pouted the entire time he ate, but chewed the chicken wings down to the bone.
We’ve had a few neighborhood kids come in and spend their allowance on shakes and fries. Frank said maybe we’re starting a new tradition. These kids will grow up with Frank’s Kitchen and have fond memories of it when they become adults. I just hope, that if something else is here in 30 years, they’ll give the new owners a chance.