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‘The definition of the American dream’ : Community rallies around Chinese restaurant owner

By Paige Hulsey

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    ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Missouri (KMOV) — The St. Charles County community is showing up in a big way for a small, family-owned business. Duke Wang and his wife Edna have run Mandarin Garden in St. Peters for more than three decades but a medical emergency suddenly forced their doors shut in January.

The phone inside the popular restaurant hasn’t stopped ringing and loyal customers are still showing up, hoping to grab a meal. But for now, no one is here to answer or cook what so many call the best Chinese food around.

“We love this place. We’ve been coming here for a long time,” said Mike and Kathy Fritshce, who stopped by Wednesday night, only to find their go-to Chinese restaurant locked.

It was back in 1987 when the Wangs first opened their restaurant in this plaza in St. Peters.

“My dad is the most caring, hardworking man I know,” said their oldest son, Henry. “He’s given up his life to raise family here in America. Being a first-generation immigrant, he is the definition of the American dream.”

Duke Wang grew up in Vietnam and his wife Edna was raised in Taiwan. They met through family friends and moved to Seattle, where Duke went to college and culinary school. They had friends in St. Louis who owned Chinese restaurants, where Duke first worked as a sous chef. But the ultimate goal was to run his own shop.

“It was his dream. Being able to open his own restaurant meant being able to help his kids achieve dreams he had only envisioned when he was a kid back in Vietnam,” said Henry Wang.

Those dreams became a reality as Henry, a violinist, attended Julliard and went on to win a Grammy. His younger brother, Jeff, is a medical doctor living in Michigan. Both remember much of their childhood spent at the restaurant.

“In the kitchen, in the corner, that used to be where my crib was apparently for the first year or two,” said Henry Wang.

For 30-plus years, Duke kept cooking.

“Those recipes are all in his head. My mom always asked him, ‘Why don’t you write them down?’ ‘I don’t need to write them down, they are in my head,'” said Henry about the conversation between his parents.

The pandemic brought its own set of challenges, including staffing, which is why Duke was at the restaurant by himself late one night in January, prepping food for the next day when he had a serious stroke.

With no one to cook those unwritten recipes, the doors closed.

That’s when a family friend started a GoFundMe to help the Wangs. It quickly raised more than $38,000.

“From the bottom of our hearts, we just want to thank everyone in the community. It means so much,” said Henry Wang.

Many donations are from strangers and customers, proving a meal here is so often about more than just food.

“My dad might not have met every single one of his customers but he made sure to give his love in his food to every single one,” said Henry Wang.

Duke is still in the hospital at Barnes Jewish. His family is hoping he can start rehab soon. They are also hoping one day he’ll return to the restaurant, even if it’s in a much different role, like teaching and supporting his son who is considering moving home from New York to help run the restaurant.

“He’s done so much for us already. It’s time for us to take care of him,” said Henry Wang.

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