The pandemic has taken a toll on many local restaurants. And while residents are making an effort to support their favorite eateries by ordering delivery and take-out, one popular Chinese restaurant was hit with a double-whammy.
In a moment, Oriental Gourmet, the popular Chinese restaurant on Sound Beach Ave in Old Greenwich, was forced to close when a driver plowed through a back wall on Oct 1, 2019.
Danny Chan said it was about 2:30pm when the car crashed through a concrete wall and into the kitchen.
Thankfully no one was hurt, but it was close. Chan said a chef whose work station was in the path of the car had just left to get lunch.
“If he was in sitting in his spot he’d have been crushed,” Chan said, adding, “I have a floor mixer that weighs several hundred pounds that was thrown 10 feet.”
Clean up involved shoring up the concrete wall. Also, since the restaurant fire suppression system went off, discharging chemicals, the whole cook line was impacted.
Chan said his father Kai Chan opened Oriental Gourmet back in 1992 and, at 82, still comes in early in the morning to mix the sauces.
“That’s why, through all these years, our recipes have never changed,” Chan said, adding that in addition to the family owned restaurant spanning generations, so too does the clientele.
Over the years, the Chans had been invited to Old Greenwich School to do a presentation to students for Chinese New Year.
“At this point, that kid back in 1992 or 1993, now has their own kid that’s grade school age,” he said.
Chan, who grew up in Bensonhurst before moving to Greenwich and raising three children with his wife, said he grew up faster than kids in Greenwich. He recalled being shocked to discover stores in Greenwich closed at 6:00pm, though that has changed somewhat, as has the level of traffic and property values.
Chan took over day-to-day operations of Oriental Gourmet in 2010. Prior to that, he and his uncle opened Penang Grill on Lewis Street in 1999. The space, which is now home to Orienta, was a popular destination for Asian Fusion cuisine and had a good long run until 2018.
Other restaurants Chan has owned include Asiana, where unfortunately there was a fire this past Dec 6.
“The kitchen is under construction now,” Chan said, shaking his head in disbelief at the vagaries of his fortune.
Chan also owned Thai Basil across from Greenwich Plaza on Railroad Ave starting in 2007, but sold it in 2019 just before the pandemic hit.
“I’ve met a lot of people over the years,” Chan said, adding he enjoys getting to know his customers. “We know a lot of families. When I was in college I got my job through customers here.”
Since reopening Oriental Gourmet after repairs, Chan said the reception from loyal customers had been great.
“Our customers were really worried about us,” he said, adding that longtime customer Maria Kelly Stevens, a local broker with Berkshire Hathaway, started a GoFundMe page for the restaurant after the crash. The fundraiser generated $4,000 to help Chan retain his staff and reopen quickly.
“There was so much going on that I wasn’t sure (about reopening in Covid),” he said, adding he had also been concerned about his father coming in to make the sauces. “But now, with the vaccine coming out, and him coming in very early in the morning. And my mother is a clean freak.”
Asked the secret of Oriental Gourmet’s longevity, Chan said the combination of service and a consistently high quality product are what keeps customers coming back.
“As a restaurateur and food person, you have a duty to people you are providing that the food is quality,” he explained. “I wouldn’t serve food I wouldn’t eat myself. It’s a moral responsibility in this business, that whatever food you’re providing is both good to eat and safe. That’s the golden rule.”
Chan said popular items at Oriental Gourmet include Won Ton soup, boneless spare ribs and “old staples” including dumplings, General Tso’s Chicken, Sesame Chicken, and broccoli with chicken or beef.
Asked what his favorite dishes are, he said his favorites are the same items that are most popular with his customers.
Customers can order take out by calling ahead or online through the chownow.com app.
Oriental Gourmet is located at 214 Sound Beach Ave in Old Greenwich.
Tel. (203) 637-1010
Oct 15, 2020