After 30 years of business, the local Chinese restaurant Mandarin Gourmet closed its doors permanently on New Year’s Eve despite growing business.
“It is with sadness and excitement that Eric & Elaine announce their retirement,” Mandarin Gourmet stated. “They look forward to what official retirement will bring into their lives.”
The couple has been working in the Central Coast restaurant industry for close to 40 years, according to Elaine. She began working at Mee Heng Low Noodle House soon after she immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong with her aunt and uncle, who owned the restaurant then.
In the 1980s, Elaine’s husband, Eric, decided to open a Chinese restaurant with a few partners in Paso Robles, but left when they didn’t get along, Elaine said.
The couple then bought and took over Mandarin Gourmet in 1992 from another couple who were planning to move away from San Luis Obispo, Elaine said.
Elaine was mostly in charge of the front area and interacting with the customers, while her husband was responsible for the kitchen.
“He just has the talent,” Elaine said. “He can taste something and go home, cook the same.”
Elaine cherished the San Luis Obispo community and credited the success and longevity of the business to them.
“The local customers, they love us and would say hi to my family,” Elaine said. “They are like coming home when they come here.”
Former college students who left the city would come back and visit the restaurant with their spouses and children according to Elaine.
Some of her customers eventually became her employees.
“I met (most of my employees) when they were babies in a baby carrier,” Elaine said. “They grow up eating our food.”
Despite the love and support from the community, the couple struggled to keep up with the business.
“We are closing, not because we’re slowing down, but because it is getting better and better,” Elaine said.
She explained that their business was becoming too much from their small restaurant but expanding and relocating to a more spacious space would require a lot from their aging bodies, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. So, they chose to take a break and retire.
“It’s a lot of hard labor and a lot of commitment,” Elaine said. “It’s sad to see it go, but we just want to take a break.”
This may not be the end of the couple’s restaurant career. Elaine hopes to start a smaller business, such as a take-out only restaurant with a smaller menu, which could be more manageable for the couple.
“Our mind is still very sharp, but our body is wearing out,” Elaine said.
Elaine said people who are considering starting a restaurant should be ready to miss spending time with family, especially during the holidays and weekends. However with passion and commitment, people can be on the right track to success.
“My husband always says, ‘Do what you love, love what you’re doing. If you decide to do it, put in 100%,’” Elaine said. “I think with that attitude you will succeed.”