It reads like a storybook tale of the immigrant American dream: In the 1960s, a young Cantonese couple made the long haul from China to Bossier City, La. After gaining experience at his uncle's restaurant, the small family moved to Houston for a new start.
What first started as a Chinese Food Product Store soon morphed into a small restaurant, with David Jue in the kitchen and his wife, Marian, waiting tables. And thus, in 1969, China Garden was born — and remains today the longest-running Chinese restaurant in the Bayou City.
"People don't see us as a restaurant," said Carol Jue-Churchill, who now co-runs the establishment with her brother, Richard Jue, along with their mother, Marian. "They see us more as a family away from family."
"People don't see us as a restaurant," said co-owner Carol Jue-Churchill. "They see us more as a family away from family."
China Garden was pushed from its initial downtown spot by the impending construction of the George R. Brown Convention Center in 1979, and has since been situated at Leeland Street and Crawford Street, just around the block from the Toyota Center.
Throughout those years, as the Jues have watched the surrounding neighborhoods transform, their restaurant has become a go-to dining spot for judges, police officers, city officials and the who's who of Houston society. Local celebrities like Rusty Hardin and Bob and Elyse Lanier are familiar faces, plus sports figures and touring musicians, but Jue-Churchill remembers just as well the regular diners who travel from out of town for China Garden.
"Some regulars drive past hundreds of Chinese restaurants to get to us," Jue-Churchill told CultureMap. She attributes that to her family's warmth, great employees and, of course, their food.
China Garden specialize in specialties from Canton like egg foo young and chop suey, but other staples include hand-rolled egg rolls and hushpuppies, an item added to the menu by a kitchen hand in Bossier City that has remained there for decades by popular demand.
Even after David Jue passed away in 2007, the restaurant has stayed true to its made-from-scratch, no short-cuts philosophy in the kitchen. Jue-Churchill says that, while she is looking for ways to adapt the restaurant's established style to the younger generations' palate, that's one thing that won't change.