Renewed China Sun rises over Bethel

China Sun owner James He puts final touches on the fountain inside his new restaurant. - Charlie Bermant
China Sun owner James He puts final touches on the fountain inside his new restaurant.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

According to China Sun Buffet owner James He, 90 percent of the cooks in Chinese buffets across the United States hail from the same region in southern China.

Many of them emigrate to places like New York, as He did at age 18, and get a job in a small restaurant.

They subsequently pack up their families and drive around the country until they find a town that does not have a Chinese buffet, then open one.

Once a location is chosen, the new owners borrow money from others in the network, in order to generate startup costs.

Later, when another family starts up a restaurant in another town, they kick in a share of the profits.

That’s He’s story.

Ten years ago he was exploring the northwest with his family and settled on Silverdale. After a few months, he sold his interest in the Silverdale restaurant to open in Port Orchard, which then had limited restaurant options.

And most significantly for He, no Chinese buffet.

He opened the China Sun at the corner of Bethel and Lund, and has become the default local location for a diverse selection of fairly-priced Asian food.

Next week, final permits allowing, the new China Sun will open in its Bethel Road location — and it’s quite an improvement from its current cramped location.

In the first place, the new restaurant serves 280 people instead of the current 150. The decor is new and stylish, with an increase in the number of dishes it can offer.

The menu will expand to include a Mongolian Grill, where customers load their own ingredients and spices into a bowl and present it for stir-fry.

Sushi is also on the menu, and everything is available for a single price — all you can eat for $6.99 at lunch and $9.99 for dinner.

Customers who want to pre-limit their quantities can order specific dishes from the menu, while take-out is charged by the pound.

The all-you-can-eat format has a few drawbacks, and several buffet chains have closed down in the face of the poor economy.

Customers may fight the temptation to eat too much, while restaurateurs end up wasting a lot of food when customers take more than what they actually eat.

He has turned these drawbacks into advantages.

“We’re still doing a good business,” He said. “People will always need to eat, and we provide a good variety of food. For one price you can have shrimp, beef or anything else.”

Some buffets have closed due to waste, having to throw out prepared food. He said his customers are more considerate and selective, and generally only take as much as they can eat at a particular time.

Still, he acknowledges one of his main goals in opening the new restaurant is to expand his customer base.

“We’re hoping to bring in some more people,” he said.

He, 38, has two children. His parents also are involved in the business, and were helping He to finalize details in the new location earlier this week.

He said that the most popular dishes served are honey walnut chicken and beef short ribs, although he adjusts the amount prepared dish to reflect customer tastes.

“The best thing about eating here,” he said, “is the ability to try lots of different things all at once.”

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