Kingwood has lost a dining treasure. Hunan Garden served its last meal, at least at its current location in the “old” H-E-B shopping center, May 16.
“I am deeply saddened to say that, after 34 years in business in Kingwood, Hunan Garden will be closing its doors,” owner Jenny Wang Hou posted on her Facebook page April 22.
SDI Realty Advisors, a Houston-based real estate and development company, acquired the property in March and is redeveloping Kings Crossing Shopping Center by the end of 2021.
“Our new landlords are demolishing our restaurant to put up a breezeway. The result is they will have two restaurant end caps with patio spaces that they can get higher rent from. We are being forced to vacate,” Wang Hou posted. “Due to my Facebook post, they are no longer willing to negotiate with us. They want us out of the center.”
The treasured restaurant’s devotees wrote hundreds of posts of support — 755 as of Tribune deadline, plus 912 likes and 364 shares. Not surprising since almost 2,000 Facebook fans have checked in and more than 1,700 follow the Hunan Garden page.
A Facebook petition gathered almost 6,400 signatures.
Tribune Correspondent Trilla Cook voiced online the thoughts of hundreds of Hunan Garden enthusiasts:
“I heard the saddest news today!” Cook posted. “It can’t be true! This restaurant has been a rock in our community, from feeding flooded victims of Hurricane Harvey to providing take out during COVID-19 shut down. They have been there for all of us!”
As The Tribune went to press, Wang Hu posted that SDI Realty has not responded to her requests but “…the outpouring of love from the community has made us reconsider closing for good and we are now moving forward with plans to relocate.”
Wang Hu will post an update as soon as the new location is finalized “ … but rest assured we will be staying in Kingwood,” she wrote on May 6.
Hunan Garden is one of several businesses in the Kings Crossing shopping center, known in Kingwood as the “old H-E-B shopping center,” that will be affected by plans that SDI Realty Advisors has for the mostly empty center.
Kings Crossing’s new look will be completed by the end of 2021, Shears said at the December 2020 BizCom.
SDI Realty did not reply to multiple attempts by The Tribune for a response.
While redevelopment of Kings Crossing is a business decision for SDI, the redevelopment is much more personal for Jenny Wang Hou.
“It is our family Chinese restaurant in Kingwood, and it has been the source of my family’s livelihood for three and a half decades,” Wang Hou said to The Tribune. “It is a cherished family heirloom that was passed down to me 11 years ago. Our employees are my second family. These days, I can’t not tear up when I talk about it.”
Wang Hou and her brother, Frank, grew up in Kingwood. She attended the DeBakey High School for Health Professions in Houston, graduated with a business degree from the University of Texas and worked in the corporate world for more than 10 years as a data management consultant.
But the restaurant business was in her blood. She grew up in Kingwood working at Hunan through grade and high school. She spent her college years employed at Pappas Restaurants because her father wanted her to get experience working for a company that he respected. She took a wine course in the famous Napa Valley in California, acquiring level one sommelier status.
She is married “ … to an amazing husband, Jerry, who teaches at Rice and works for the Atlanta Symphony …” and they have a four-year-old son, Remy.
Hunan Garden is the family’s second restaurant.
“My father, uncle and aunt opened Hunan Garden in Rosenberg in 1984, then opened the Kingwood location two years later,” said Wang Hu. “The Rosenberg location is very successful and run by my aunt.”
A customer from the Rosenberg location told Wang Hu’s father that a Chinese restaurant was needed in a place called Kingwood.
“Kings Crossing was the only commercial development in the back of Kingwood at the time,” Wang Hu said, “we were one of the first tenants. My father graduated with a master’s in architecture from Texas Tech and designed the restaurant himself.”
Wang Hu’s father is her role model, teaching her to thank every employee at the end of the day and to remember than they could not run a successful business without them.
“Both Henry, our general manager, and our kitchen manager, Jojo, have been with us for 27 years,” she said. “We have so many other employees who have stuck with us for more than 15 years. This is all weighing very heavily on our hearts.”
When Wang Hu’s father died in 2004, her uncle, Paul Wang, and his wife managed the restaurant until they retired in 2010.
“I decided to take over because I couldn’t bear the thought of selling it,” she said. “It was my last connection to my father.”
Residents unfamiliar with Hunan Garden discovered the Kingwood treasure during Hurricane Harvey.
“It was pretty devastating when we learned we flooded with three feet of water, but I immediately went to work rebuilding,” Wang Hu recalled. “Employees came to work to help and we did our own demo.”
When she realized there was no place to eat in Kingwood, and families like hers were rebuilding their homes with no kitchen to cook in, Hunan Garden sent out thousands of free meals over three days before they had to close to do their own flood remediation.
While he is pleased that the mostly empty shopping center is finally getting some attention, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin sympathizes with the Wang Hu family.
“SDI Realty offered Hunan Garden multiple options trying to keep them at the shopping center. However, Hunan Garden declined and their lease is expiring at the end of May,” he wrote The Tribune. “I am sad to see Hunan Garden leave the center as the restaurant has been a staple for my family for many, many years. I am hopeful that SDI and Hunan Garden can reach an agreement or Hunan Garden can find another Kingwood site for their restaurant.”
Whatever happens, Wang Hu is indebted to her Kingwood community for supporting her family business for so many years.
“No one budgets for having to rebuild a restaurant completely, but I also can’t bear the thought of letting Hunan Garden Kingwood die,” she said. “I am so touched by the outpouring of love and support from the community right now. It is what helps me get up in the morning. My heart feels crushed, but I believe everything happens for a reason and I look forward to flipping the page to the next chapter.”
Follow Hunan Garden on its Facebook page, facebook.com/hunangardenKW.