Wing Leong and family are renovating 1540 W. Republic Road to open Leong's Asian Diner. The family's Springfield cashew chicken will be on the menu.
Leongs return to restaurant business
When the Leong family is out and about in Springfield, they often run into former customers of Leong’s Tea House. Even though the restaurant closed its doors in 1997, someone will inevitably ask family members when they plan to open another restaurant. The answer to that question has recently changed -– to October.
David Leong, credited with creating Springfield-style cashew chicken, and sons Ling and Wing are opening Leong’s Asian Diner, 1540 W. Republic Road and planning a menu including old favorites from Leong’s Tea House and American classics. The hope is to open Oct. 1, Wing Leong said, adding that the date could change because remodeling work hasn’t begun yet.
“We were trying to get the restaurant open this month, because my dad will be turning 90 Aug. 18,” Wing Leong said. “He has it in his mind he’s out of retirement.” David, who opened Leong’s Tea House in 1963, will serve as a goodwill ambassador, said Ling Leong, who plans to keep his job as a Sysco Corp. food sales representative and help manage the restaurant’s financial and administrative work on evenings and weekends.
“He’s going to go out and meet the customers,” Ling Leong said of his dad. “He’s always going to want to put his hand on how to cook things and make sure we’re doing things his way.”
Wing Leong, however, will be taking the lead in the kitchen and the restaurant’s day-to-day operations.
“Since Leong’s Tea House closed, I’ve been basically helping other restaurants in town open,” said Wing Leong, who has headed up the kitchens of The Epicurean, Flame Steakhouse and Fire & Ice, among others. “Now it’s time to go out on our own.”
The Leongs are covering the estimated $300,000 startup costs with personal finances and a Bank of America loan. The family will pay $4,500 a month to rent the 3,700-square-foot building, which is owned by Muskogee, Okla.-based Pixie Inc., according to the Greene County Assessor’s office.
Jack Ball & Associates Architects PC were hired to transform the building’s interior into a contemporary restaurant with Asian accents. Because the building was originally a Charlie’s Chicken – though most recently Tex-Mex restaurant Tortillas Comida Deluxe – Wing Leong said the architects had their work cut out for them.
“Right now, it looks like a barn. We at least want it to look like a pretty, Asian barn,” he said.
While Chris Ball, principal architect at Jack Ball, said it was challenging to redesign an existing space to meet the restaurant’s needs. He said the family did a good job blending materials, colors and finishes.
“The whole idea of the restaurant is a combination of Asian and American influences,” Ball said. “We wanted the design to be an expression of what the family is trying to accomplish with the restaurant.”
Wing Leong and sous-chef Mike Herndon are planning the menu, which is about 70 percent Asian-inspired and 30 percent American, Herndon said. Wing said prices would range between $6 and $20, averaging $8 to $12 for dinner and less than $10 for lunch.
The inspiration for the menu comes partly from national dining trends, and from the popularity of food programs such as The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” Wing Leong said.
“When the economy tanked, all the classically trained chefs … started making comfort foods,” he said. Dishes returning from the original Leong’s Tea House menu include cashew chicken, Asian barbecue roast pork and roast duck. An example of Asian-inspired items created by Wing Leong is an appetizer adaptation of Chinese bao – traditional steamed buns with pork filling – that will be open-faced with slices of pork belly, pickled cucumber and a hoisin glaze. On the American side, he said, there will be a homemade sausage of the day and Parmesan-encrusted scallops with firecracker shrimp.
“We’re trying to avoid processed foods, and not serve the same old chicken-fried steak every other place carries,” he said. “We want to instill that this is what food should be, we’re almost carrying the gastropub philosophy to Asian food and Asian ingredients.”[[In-content Ad]]