When Jennifer Hua became the new owner of the Hong Kong Gardens restaurant back in September, she knew she had a long road ahead of her.
She has spent these past few months improving the Clinton restaurant’s quality and reputation. Locals may know it as historically being the site of bar fights and rowdy crowds, but Hua is hoping to transform the place into something different with new energy.
Looking past the grime, she saw a beautiful view when she first toured the building, and the potential to be something more.
“I looked at the view and said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is breath-taking,’” Hua said.
Although she has owned restaurants in the Seattle area and lived across the water in Lynnwood for the past 20 years, she had never once set foot on the island. She is now proud to call herself a Whidbey native.
Remodeling commenced under her direction, starting with the kitchen.
“It was so dirty and filthy and disgusting,” Hua said. “We put in a new kitchen.”
The bar, which Hua reported had a moldy fridge, was also redone. Other changes in the bar included a more expansive selection of alcohol, a new pool table and sound system for Friday night karaoke.
Throughout the restaurant, new paint freshens the walls and laminate flooring replaces the duct-taped carpet seams of days past. Most of the renovations were done by Hua herself, with the help of friends, and are slated to continue through the end of the month.
The restaurant also has a new kitchen crew and a new DJ.
The latter, Hua said, was important in creating a fresh atmosphere for Friday and Saturday nights in the bar, when it is open until 2 a.m. She wanted to remedy the lack of night life on the island with a welcoming atmosphere, regardless of whether people are drinking alcohol or not.
“We’ve got a DJ, we’ve got a bar, we have everything,” Hua said. “We just need to bring the party over.”
For Hua, it is her first time bartending in a restaurant. Knowing her bar will stand out for its late hours of operation, she has gamely stepped up to the plate as part of the operational staff.
Mary Poolman, who worked as a server for Hong Kong Gardens a few months before the change in ownership, said the improvements Hua has made have been significant.
Hua has also added a “real Chinese menu,” which extends beyond the deep-fried fare of “American Chinese food” and includes such traditional dishes as stir fried cabbage and shredded potatoes.
The driving force behind all these changes has been to win back people who have known the Hong Kong Gardens as something very different for many years.
“We’re changing their minds, changing their viewpoints,” Hua said.
Next up, she plans to repaint the exterior of the building, weather permitting, and extend the outdoor decks. One day, she hopes, couples may consider using the Hong Kong Gardens as their wedding venue.