On January 17th 2020 an excited couple opened Asian Kitchen in Bethel, CT. Poised on the inescapable event horizon of a pandemic that would suck everyone into one of the most challenging events of our lifetime, no one could have ever predicted at that time that a year later we would all still be navigating this new way of life. While we have all managed this past year in different ways, one thing is certain: small businesses and restaurants have faced the herculean task of staying afloat in the face of great uncertainty about the future.
Imagine opening a brand-new restaurant and within 3 months the world shuts down and the largest local wine and liquor store next door, that was part of the cross-business lure to renting the space, shuts and relocates. No one knows who you are yet, the 13,000+ square foot store next to you sits empty and vacant and your uphill battle to build a new business has become the equivalent of scaling Mt. Everest.
Enter Will and Mei Chaung, our endeavoring entrepreneurs who were determined to reach that impossible mountain top. Will moved to America when he was 12 years old and his father owned a Chinese take-out restaurant in Naugatuck, CT. Growing up with a family that owned its own take-out business, it was only natural that he learned and became familiar with what was involved in keeping the family business running. After a few years, when he turned 16, Will’s father turned to him and said, “I have taught you everything I know, but you can learn even more. I want to send you to work at my friends’ restaurant which is a sit-down style Chinese restaurant to learn more from another perspective.” Will said that during this time he learned so much more about the front of the house: the care and attention you provide your customers; the details of remembering people’s names; what they like and don’t like in their food; providing more than food but an experience.
Soon it was time for college, and Will attended Central University majoring in Economy and Finance, eventually graduating and landing a job in business. He did this for a few years and as he put it, he was BORED! It was time for a life change, so he took a sabbatical and drove across the country exploring the states and, along the way, the food! Eventually weaving his way back to the East Coast, he settled in NYC with a friend who had opened a restaurant. This restaurant became so successful that his friend decided to open another location with Will as his business partner. Fast forward a bit and Will married Mei, they had 2 boys, and the second establishment became solely Will’s from 2004 to 2018.
So how does a successful NYC restaurateur end up in Bethel? Blame it on the ice… and I don’t mean the weather. Will’s two sons became passionate about hockey and both enrolled in a program that had them driving from NYC to tournaments and competitive games all over CT and then back again. Will and Mei endured the travelling, thinking this would be a one-time thing that, like many children’s hobbies, would be dropped for the next new thrill. But the kids proved them wrong. They remain heavily dedicated to hockey and continue to play to this day. A decision needed to be made about what to do next and that decision was to sell the NYC restaurant and move to CT permanently.
When Will and Mei set to finding a location in CT to open their new restaurant, they explored all over, from Ridgefield, Danbury, Newtown and more. In fact, Asian Kitchen almost ended up in Brookfield when they looked at a location that was being constructed that they were guaranteed would be complete in just a few short weeks. Side note - to this day, that space is still not built! Lucky for us all, they finally found the perfect spot in Bethel. It was the perfect size in a shopping plaza with great foot traffic next to a big and busy liquor store. Life was going to be good!
Which brings us full circle to where we began: at the edge of a pandemic staring up at Mt. Everest. Open and ready to show Bethel a menu with a cross selection of delicious types of Asian cuisine, expertly prepared and served with a genuinely friendly smile, Will and Mei were faced with something that no one could have ever prepared for. This is a testament to just how good this place is, because Asian Kitchen is still here, still providing an excellent experience and delicious food.
When asked what his favorite part of owning a restaurant is Will tells me that he genuinely loves meeting people and getting to know his customers. “You appreciate them, and they appreciate you. They become more than your customers; they become your friends too.”
If you haven’t found your way into Asian Kitchen located in the Hub Center Shopping Plaza on the corner of Greenwood Ave and Grassy Plain St., it’s time to take a small trip into town. Dine-in and takeout are both offered. You’ll be greeted by a smile and good food, and chances are highly likely that you’ll be back again.