By Nathan Pace
Southsider voice web editor
For almost three decades one of the longest-lasting fixtures in Southport has been the China Garden restaurant owned by Alex Wang, whose eatery has been open so long that he is beginning to see third-generation patrons.
“Now they say if you don’t have this type of loyal customer support, a small restaurant like this cannot survive,” Wang said. “Luckily over the years we’ve built our reputation.”
The China Garden opened in 1988 but has changed little over the years.
“I view ourselves as a neighborhood business,” Wang said. “Been very lucky over the years to have community support.”
The journey Wang took to Indiana is not a simple one as it started in Seoul, South Korea. His parents owned a restaurant there but it was not what Wang wanted to do at first. He majored in political science in college before moving to Taiwan, where he met his future wife, Lindy. In both cities he learned about cooking before moving to Los Angeles in 1984.
“My family had a little restaurant in Korea,” he said. “After school I would wash dishes and watch. Never thought I would make my living doing this.”
The Wangs had their first child in 1984 in Los Angeles but moved to Indiana two years later because Lindy had family in Indianapolis. They had their first daughter in 1992. Their children graduated from Southport and went onto Purdue and Indiana universities.
Wang had to adjust some dishes to fit American tastes when he opened.
“We have adjusted our cooking a little bit to fit the local people,” he said. “Originally in Asian cooking we don’t put a lot of sweet things in, but local people like it sweeter. So we adjust a little bit accordingly. Asians don’t like things like ice cream or cake. Here it is a main staple.”
Another trait Wang has emphasized in the restaurant is to have fresh noodles, which is something that lovers of authentic Asian cuisine have complimented him for.
Wang says his orange chicken is a big hit with younger diners while the almond chicken is a favorite of older guests.
Despite the longevity of China Garden, Wang said he never felt the need to open another restaurant because he is content with what he has.
“I’m not an aggressive person,” Wang said. “You have to think in your personalities. Some people tend to satisfy very easily. I’ve always viewed this as my job and instead of my career. Work hard and fulfill myself. Others view their job as a career or as a stepping stone where they could spring to something better. For me no.”