August 21, 2007
Landmark Closing, But Don't Panic

Lai Wah, perhaps the only restaurant in Sacramento where you could get soy-sauce squab and steamed salted fish with pork at 2 a.m., is closing Oct. 1.

But fans of the restaurant's extensive and largely Cantonese menu and its "down-to-earth village cooking" need not necessarily panic. After a remodeling, the place is to reopen in November as New Lai Wah under the direction of principals involved in the restaurant New Canton along Broadway, confirms Ken Tsang, the manager at New Canton. (He deferred other questions to Alan Chan, who heads up the group that owns New Canton, among several other Chinese restaurants; Chan wasn't immediately available for comment.)

Gina Gee-Wong, daughter of James and Kim Gee, who with her uncle, Ken Lui, opened Lai Wah 25 years ago, said the family agreed it was time to ease into at least semi-retirement. Neither Gina Gee-Wong nor her two siblings were interested in taking over the restaurant at this time. Lui, the Lai Wah chef, will travel initially and then join the Gees in running Bobo, a take-out Chinese-food business within the Rainbow Foods market along Florin Road.

Years ago, I counted 169 options on the Lai Wah menu. Liu, a Canton native reared in Hong Kong, primarily prepares Cantonese dishes, along with several Szechuan and Shanghai selections. Whether the menu still will be as lengthy and diverse, and whether New Lai Wah keeps its famous late hours, remains to be seen.

"I am so sad to see our restaurant being sold, as I grew up in that place working and meeting many wonderful people and a long list of loyal customers. To us, Lai Wah is like a baby we watched grow up in 25 years," said Gina Gee-Wong. Among the people she met at the restaurant was the man to become her husband. He was there with a friend while she was eating dinner with her parents, recalled Gee-Wong, who now works as a Medi-Cal analyst with the state.

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