Above: From left, the people behind Cathay Garden: Chung Hing Lau, Won Lau and Joe Cho.
By Cabot Shore
A small ad in the (then) Rhode Island Pendulum in June 1971 made the announcement: “Opening Soon – Cathay Garden Restaurant … featuring the finest Cantonese cuisine.” Fifty years later, the restaurant is still serving Cantonese specialities like General Tso’s Chicken and Beef with Broccoli, much to the delight of a strong loyal following.
And, with the closing of Pal’s Restaurant in June, Cathay Garden remains perhaps the longest operating eatery in town.
The Leung family opened Cathay Garden but they sold it in 1986 to Chung Hing Lau and Won Lau, who have owned it ever since.
The new owners decided to add luncheon specials. At first, said Lau, people wondered if anyone would come. They did come and the luncheon special remains popular. As does the Pu Pu Platter, an assortment of smaller dishes. As pan-Asian restaurants have come along, offering everything from sushi to Chinese food to hibachi – Cathay Garden has stayed close to its roots.
Lau’s brother, Joe Cho, is the face of the restaurant for many customers.
“The customers love him. He knows so many customers’ names. We have so many regular customers who come once or twice a week for so many years,” said Won.
That loyal customer base helped Cathay Garden through what was their most difficult time – the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the pandemic, we had to close for two months. Then we reopened, with a small staff,
a lot of customers said, ‘We’re so happy to see you open.’ And that makes us happy,” said Lau. They did just takeout for several months, opening their dining room again in late spring.
When asked how they’ve managed to keep going all these years, Lau said, “The lesson in being here a long time is being dedicated, working hard, and loving your customers and having persistence.”
She also credits their chef, who has been with them for decades, and the attention to good ingredients.
“We use good quality meats and vegetables even if prices go up. Customers like that fresh food. That’s one of the reasons we’ve stayed in business.”
Lau said thankfully they had not been affected by the recent spate of anti-Asian incidents.
“Joe said he received many phone calls from people saying, ‘Oh, Joe, is anybody bothering you? Can we help you?’ said Lau. “I think it’s because of being here a long time, we’ve become like family.”
Still, Lau concedes she and her husband, who live in East Greenwich, can’t run the restaurant forever. She hopes maybe one of their children – they have four, including three who graduated from EGHS – might take it over.
But for now, Lau and her husband and brother remain committed to keeping Cathay Garden an EG mainstay.
“We truly appreciate our customers and in return our customers are very nice to us.”
With additional reporting by Elizabeth McNamara.
Cabot Shore is a member of the Class of 2022.