After some four decades of stuffing kosher diners with spare ribs, egg rolls and General Tso’s chicken, Shang-Chai restaurant in Brooklyn closed its doors for the last time on New Year’s Day.
Angie Chan, who took over the business with her husband, Alan, in 1991, blamed the economy for fewer parties and forcing more people to dine at home rather than splurge for a hot meal in the Flatlands eatery, located a few blocks from the Kings Plaza shopping mall. The business is believed to have opened about 35 years ago.
“There are lots of good memories,” she told The Jewish Week Monday morning, following the last big crush of diners packing the restaurant’s two dining rooms on Sunday night, the busiest time of the week.
“We saw a lot of customers grow with us. We watched their children grow and they knew my children.”
The Hong Kong immigrant, 56 — often seen at the phone trying to keep up with abundant take-out orders while her husband seated arriving guests — said running the business allowed her to learn a lot about Jewish culture and tradition.
“I realized that Jewish people, their whole life, they have so many parties: When they are born they have a party, when [Orthodox boys] turn three years old and have a haircut, then when they turn 13 and then when they get married they have Sheva Brachos. These happy times keep the whole family tied together.”
Apart from being one of the oldest kosher establishments on the East Coast, Shang-Chai is rare as a free-standing building, rather than a storefront, with its own parking lot, and located in a neighborhood, Flatlands that is not heavily Jewish.
The closing is the latest in a recent string of long-time kosher eatery demises, including Midtown neighbors Kosher Delight and Jerusalem 2 Pizza on Broadway. The latter opened a smaller cafe nearby. A year ago, H&H Bagels shut down its West 46th Street location, months after an Upper West Side location closed. (A store with the same name and new owners recently opened downtown.)
The news isn’t all sad, though. Midtown’s Prime Grill, an upscale meat restaurant, announced this week that it will move to a larger location a few blocks away, on West 56th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.
Elan Kornblum, publisher of Great Kosher Restaurants magazine said that while kosher Chinese was a strong trend in the 70s and after, the opening of such establishments seems to be on the decline.
“They have kind of gone the same way as the deli,” said Kornblum, a fan of Shang-Chai food who picked up some take-out for the last time Sunday night. “There are still some left in Brooklyn, such as Yun-Kee, China Glatt and Mr. Nosh, but they are a small percentage compared to the fusion of Asian and Mediterranean and the American neuvo cuisine.”
Die-hard Shang-Chai fan Avi Fried, a Canarsie native now living in Teaneck, NJ, crossed the Hudson Thursday night to stock up on soon-to-be-extinct goodies, including 50 egg rolls, 30 soups and seven entrees. The bill? Over $350.
Since he arrived at the end of the Thursday night all-you-can eat buffet, he also got some additional leftovers. He’ll share some and freeze the rest for later enjoyment.
“I can remember eating there as a kid 25, 30 years ago,” said Fried, 35, an ecommerce manager. “I’m a huge Chinese food fan and even went to culinary school to learn how to make it. Whenever I go to a new place I try to find the local Chinese restaurant to see how it compares to Shang-Chai.” He’s yet to find a contender.
Fried’s favorite dish: Scallion pancakes, now taken off the menu because they take too much preparation time. Also recently phased out as cost-ineffective: Shang Chai’s succulent veal spare ribs.
“People are stunned and disappointed,” Kornblum said. “There’s even some people rallying to try to get them to open someplace else.”
But Chan, who also owns a nearby non-kosher restaurant, said she is considering continuing her education as well as spending more time with her grandchildren. She said running a business had become too difficult in the current economic climate.
“In the 30 years I have been here this is the first time I have seen it this bad,” she said.
A Facebook page called for “One Last Hurrah” at Shang-Chai Tuesday night. About a dozen people said they would be among the final guests.
For Fried, though, the buffet will last a little longer than this week — at least, as long as his frozen stash holds out.
“It’s a bit of a love affair,” he said.