Interview with George and April Kao, September 28, 2021

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Interview with George and April Kao, September 28, 2021


Asian Americans
Cooking, American
Cooking, Chinese







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Betsy Brody


George Kao
April Kao

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5.4 Interview with George and April Kao, September 28, 2021 2021oh001_di_001 02:04:29 ohdi Digging In di001 How Food, Culture, and Class Shaped Asian Dallas Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans This project is possible thanks to the support of a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship. Asian Americans Texas--History Cooking, American Cooking, Chinese George Kao April Kao Betsy Brody wav oh-audio-dig-kao_george_april_20210928.wav 1:|16(3)|51(4)|78(3)|93(9)|113(14)|132(4)|150(10)|169(6)|189(11)|219(4)|235(9)|252(12)|276(5)|314(9)|343(3)|363(4)|383(6)|396(7)|415(4)|429(5)|444(3)|456(7)|472(6)|492(4)|510(6)|534(4)|548(8)|563(6)|575(11)|601(5)|618(6)|632(10)|649(7)|680(14)|721(4)|739(12)|767(4)|785(6)|804(13)|821(1)|839(10)|852(3)|863(4)|883(5)|900(5)|917(6)|936(6)|965(6)|1043(7)|1082(14)|1107(5)|1122(7)|1177(3)|1194(11)|1307(10)|1322(2)|1345(3)|1360(6)|1410(8)|1452(10)|1470(12)|1489(6)|1503(1)|1519(1)|1533(2)|1542(4)|1554(7)|1569(1)|1631(12)|1647(9)|1658(6)|1674(1)|1693(6)|1704(2)|1717(9)|1731(7)|1789(13)|1809(11)|1841(10) 0 Aviary audio 0 Introduction Asian Americans ; Cooking, American ; Cooking, Chinese ; Texas--History 35 Kao family comes to Texas from Taiwan Buck Kao ; Chinese restaurant ; Dallas ; Taiwan ; Texas 162 Arriving in Dallas and opening Royal China Asian community ; Cantonese ; chefs ; Chinese community ; Chinese restaurant ; Chop suey ; Dallas ; dry stir beef ; egg foo yung ; fried rice ; General Tso's chicken ; Mandarin ; orange chicken ; recipe ; Royal China ; Safari ; Shanghai Restaurant ; western palate ; wok 32.8971327074138, -96.80207992616816 17 560 Royal China's four generations of customers customers ; family run restaurant ; generation ; regulars ; Royal China 603 Fitting into Dallas in the 1970s Asian community ; Chinese population ; Chinese restaurant ; Dallas ; educate ; education ; English ; language ; Richardson ; University of Texas at Arlington ; University of Texas at Dallas 1025 &quot ; Authenticity&quot ; and the menu as a tool to educate authentic ; authenticity ; comfort food ; dumplings ; educate ; education ; menu ; palate ; Pearl Rice meatball ; western palate 1297 Experiences of racism/discrimination discrimination ; racism 1392 Redesign and remodel in 2008/ Menu changes broccoli beef ; Buck Kao ; Chinese restaurant ; design ; dumplings ; Henry S. Miller ; interior design ; landlord ; lease ; menu ; real estate ; remodel ; Shanghai style ; sweet and sour chicken ; Szechuan 2173 Chefs and labor challenges challenges ; chefs ; hiring ; labor ; labor shortage ; staffing 2539 Connection to the Jewish community celebrations ; Chinese restaurant ; Christmas ; Jewish ; neighborhood 2953 Atmosphere at Royal China on a busy night atmosphere ; Chinese restaurant ; food ; hospitality ; Royal China 3118 Sourcing ingredients Asian grocery ; local ingredients ; sourcing ; suppliers ; vegetables 3274 Relationship with neighboring businesses in plaza business ; neighbors ; plaza 3425 Buck Kao's legacy Buck Kao ; connection 3553 Chinese New Year Chinese New Year ; staff 3620 Experience with the 2019 tornado in Dallas Dallas Cowboys ; Royal China ; tornado 3845 Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Royal China COVID ; pandemic ; shutdown ; takeout 4053 Celebrities at Royal China celebrities ; Dallas ; Dallas Cowboys ; neigborhood ; President Bush 4342 Photography and art in Royal China culture ; interior design ; photography ; Safari 4577 Lessons and reflections from running a Chinese restaurant in Dallas celebrations ; Chinese restaurant ; connect ; connection ; culture ; Dallas ; food ; labor shortage ; neigborhood ; relationship 5527 Relationships with other Chinese restaurants in Dallas Chinese restaurants ; mentor |00:21:30| BRODY This is Betsy Brody. Today is September 28th, 2021. I am interviewing for the first time Ms. April Kao and Mr. George Kao. This interview is taking place in my home office in Richardson, Texas. This interview is possible thanks to the support of a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship and is part of the project entitled &quot ; Digging In How Food, Culture and Class Shaped the Story of Dallas.&quot ; All right. Thank you so much to both of you for joining me. I&#039 ; m really looking forward to hearing your stories and the story of your family. First of all, could you just tell me where and when you were born? |00:22:09| APRIL KAO You go first. |00:22:10| GEORGE KAO No. |00:22:11| APRIL KAO OK. I was born in Taipei, Taiwan in 1955. |00:22:19| BRODY How about you? |00:22:20| GEORGE KAO Same...Taiwan 52 in 1952. |00:22:24| BRODY Well, what brought you to Texas? What brought you to Texas? |00:22:28| GEORGE KAO Because my father moved here first, so we just followed the parents |00:22:32| BRODY Tell me about your father. |00:22:34| GEORGE KAO A career military man turned to diplomat. Now, after he retired, he decided to move family to the United States. For, you know, better future for the kids. For our generation. |00:22:50| BRODY Absolutely. What was his name? |00:22:51| GEORGE KAO Buck. |00:22:52| BRODY His name was Buck. |00:22:54| GEORGE KAO Buck Kao. |00:22:55| BRODY Yes. And so he was a diplomat. Where from? |00:23:01| GEORGE KAO Nationalist Government. |00:23:01| BRODY OK. Yes. |00:23:03| APRIL KAO He was stationed in many different countries, Switzerland, England, France, Germany, Korea. |00:23:14| GEORGE KAO Korea is during the Korean War. At that time, he was still on the military side. |00:23:19| APRIL KAO And he was helping the American side. |00:23:22| GEORGE KAO Yeah. |00:23:22| BRODY That&#039 ; s right. So is that what that made him think that he would like to come to the United States? |00:23:28| APRIL KAO Yep. |00:23:29| GEORGE KAO I think yes. Probably he had some friends during that period. So they still connect. So after he retired, he decided to move to United States. |00:23:41| APRIL KAO He actually was here in D.C., living in D.C. in 1952 when he (George Kao) was born. He was three months old. George was three months old, lived in D.C. for three years. And they moved back to Taiwan, you know, and then after he retired, he decided to move the whole family here. |00:24:03| BRODY Well, did he have a sponsor or he just was able to immigrate at that time? |00:24:08| GEORGE KAO Yeah, just able to, yeah. |00:24:10| BRODY And so how did the family end up in Texas? |00:24:14| GEORGE KAO That&#039 ; s an interesting question. I always joke and say. Because Dallas Cowboys. |00:24:22| BRODY Because of the Dallas Cowboys? |00:24:23| APRIL KAO No. They landed in San Francisco and tried to look for a place to maybe have some sort of business or a restaurant, and then later they came with two chefs to scout locations and they told him, maybe you should try Dallas. You know, it&#039 ; s such a booming place. So they came. |00:24:51| BRODY They came. So all along, he was intending to be in the restaurant business? Had he been in the restaurant business before? |00:24:59| GEORGE KAO No, never. |00:25:01| BRODY What drew him to that? |00:25:04| GEORGE KAO I think what it is...This is type business nobody can compete with you, right? Chinese food, right? Absolutely. Your only competition is your own people. So at that time, Dallas is still kind of not like the East Coast and West Coast. That&#039 ; s a really big, big Chinese community. Right? Dallas is still kind of new at the 70s. So they decided, &quot ; OK, it&#039 ; s coming. A new market.&quot ; So they decided to move to Dallas. |00:25:42| BRODY Fantastic. So how big was the community, the Chinese community at the time? |00:25:47| GEORGE KAO At that time? |00:25:48| BRODY Yeah. |00:25:48| APRIL KAO Very small, very pretty small. Very, very few Chinese people. That- when we came in 1977, still a small community. |00:25:58| BRODY Right. So the restaurant started in 1974. Tell me about the restaurant. We haven&#039 ; t even talked about that yet. Tell me the name and how it all- how it got started. How did your dad start the restaurant? |00:26:11| APRIL KAO Well, they came in to look for any opportunities, so they ended up working for a restaurant called Shanghai Restaurant and then for some time in 72, I think. And then when 74, the current location of Royal China, it was called Safari. It was a steakhouse. And that location, I mean, became available. So they acquired that space and made it into Royal China. I guess, you know, because it&#039 ; s on Royal Lane. |00:26:54| BRODY That&#039 ; s right. It is on Royal Lane. |00:26:56| APRIL KAO Right. |00:26:57| BRODY So they took over the old Safari space and that had been a pretty popular restaurant. |00:27:05| GEORGE KAO At that time. Safari was very successful. |00:27:09| BRODY So they took over that that space and renamed it Royal China. How did, what were the first days of the business like in the family story? |00:27:19| GEORGE KAO Just before we move here. So when the restaurant opened, |00:27:23| APRIL KAO We heard it was packed, lined with people because it&#039 ; s such a new restaurant, new concept, not too many Chinese restaurants around at the time. And they had, we had, chefs from Taiwan and the newspaper write-up. It was a very popular for some time. |00:27:48| BRODY A big splash. |00:27:49| APRIL KAO Big splash. |00:27:49| BRODY Right. So the community, you said was small, the Chinese community at the time. So the clientele at the beginning must have been. |00:28:00| APRIL KAO Caucasian. Yeah. Not Chinese at the time. |00:28:04| BRODY So was there anything special that your family did in the early days to sort of, you know, to bring in business, to attract business to, you know, or, you know, were people just lining up because they were interested in trying Chinese food? |00:28:24| GEORGE KAO I think that at that time, it&#039 ; s only a few Chinese restaurants. Basically it&#039 ; s only Cantonese immigrant. So all the Chinese food at that time in Dallas, I think pretty much everyone is Cantonese style. So just so-called like |00:28:41| APRIL KAO Mandarin |00:28:42| GEORGE KAO Chop suey, at that time, right? Like Cantonese style. Famous by egg foo yung, chop suey, fried rice. And I think we are, based on my understanding we are probably one of the few early to serve at that time so-called Mandarin style. |00:29:05| BRODY Tell me about Mandarin style. What is it like? What are the main aspects of Mandarin style cooking? |00:29:11| APRIL KAO We have Peking Duck at the time. We still have that. And then like moo shu pork, stir fry. And then we have dry stir beef was starting from that time until now it&#039 ; s still... |00:29:28| BRODY Tell me about that. |00:29:30| APRIL KAO Dry stir beef? It&#039 ; s a little sweet, little spicy, crispy fried beef, you know, with all this seasoning. |00:29:39| BRODY And would you say that&#039 ; s the specialty of the house? |00:29:41| APRIL KAO Yes. Yes, yes, yes. |00:29:44| GEORGE KAO From the day one! |00:29:45| BRODY Who developed that recipe? Is that a traditional recipe? |00:29:48| GEORGE KAO You know, kind of- we modify it. We tried. In general, American people love kind of little bit sweet and sour. Everybody loves fried food. Right? So we just try to say, &quot ; OK, we do this beef. We fry a little bit, so it becomes crispy outside, then stir-fry in the wok with the sauce, it becomes a little bit spicy and little bit sweet.&quot ; It&#039 ; s become instant success, you know, kind of like General Kao&#039 ; s chicken. |00:30:22| BRODY Yes. |00:30:23| GEORGE KAO It&#039 ; s just a version. Just one is a beef version, one is a chicken version. That&#039 ; s, you know, nowadays orange chicken, General Kao Chicken, all those become universal. |00:30:35| BRODY Right. |00:30:37| GEORGE KAO Even some American chain stores, they carry like orange chicken. |00:30:43| BRODY They do, they do. So those dishes are...They took off from the beginning, did you have a sort of regular clientele or, you know, lots of regulars? Tell me about that... |00:30:57| GEORGE KAO Lots of regulars. Even till now that we have a probably customers for four generation. |00:31:04| BRODY Amazing. |00:31:05| GEORGE KAO They still come to a restaurant. |00:31:07| BRODY That&#039 ; s amazing. |00:31:07| GEORGE KAO Some of the older one already passed away, but they still keep on coming. |00:31:13| BRODY So you&#039 ; ve really gotten to build relationships with families over time. Well, that&#039 ; s really interesting. So it sounds like your dad picked the spot based on it was a popular spot that people were accustomed to going out to eat. And then also, though, do you remember any stories or have any experiences about, about fitting in. Fitting in in the restaurant scene or fitting in just in general in Dallas at that time, what was it like? |00:31:47| GEORGE KAO At that time? |00:31:48| BRODY Yes. |00:31:50| GEORGE KAO You mean in the seventies. Well, I need to think about it. |00:31:57| BRODY Yeah, absolutely. Take a, take a minute. |00:32:02| APRIL KAO Yeah, well, I was working in the back of the house. I started washing dishes, cutting vegetables. So not much of the time to deal with front of the house. It&#039 ; s always my father-in-law and George was working the front. So, yeah, you know, a little bit. But fitting in? Well, language is my big problem. |00:32:32| BRODY Yes. |00:32:33| APRIL KAO OK, and it&#039 ; s not easy at the time. I felt like I was in the black hole. |00:32:44| BRODY Oh, that sounds difficult. |00:32:48| APRIL KAO Yeah. For a while until I started to learn to speak and to communicate |00:32:53| BRODY Did you go back to school or was it just sort of an immersion? |00:32:59| APRIL KAO I did. I when my children was going to school and my sister came and I was helping her in enrolling in school and I thought, &quot ; Hey, I can go to school, too!&quot ; So I started to take ESL classes and horticulture classes and photography classes. |00:33:24| BRODY Where did you go to school? |00:33:26| APRIL KAO I went to Richland and then Collin County and then I took some classes at Texas Woman&#039 ; s University. |00:33:36| BRODY Great. Well, and you obviously learned English very, very well. |00:33:43| APRIL KAO Yeah. |00:33:44| GEORGE KAO We&#039 ; re still learning. Always room to improve. Yeah, absolutely. We try our best. |00:33:49| BRODY You&#039 ; re doing great. |00:33:53| GEORGE KAO You&#039 ; re very kind. |00:33:54| BRODY In the 70s when you both actually did arrive here. Were you already married at that time? And then...Yes? And so did you move into a house, apartment at that time? How know...Tell me about your process and what your life was like during that early time. |00:34:17| GEORGE KAO First, when she (April Kao) moved to here, we just stay with, like, I think, most traditional Asian stay together. |00:34:26| APRIL KAO We stayed with his parents. |00:34:28| GEORGE KAO Yeah. All my brother, sister, us- we stayed where this one in Richardson. |00:34:35| BRODY in Richardson? |00:34:36| APRIL KAO Richardson |00:34:37| GEORGE KAO The house is facing Berkner High School. |00:34:40| BRODY Oh OK. |00:34:41| GEORGE KAO Berkner Drive. We used to live there. And then after maybe... |00:34:47| APRIL KAO A year or something, and then we moved. |00:34:50| GEORGE KAO To an apartment. We moved to an apartment. |00:34:51| BRODY OK. |00:34:52| GEORGE KAO We moved into an apartment |00:34:52| BRODY And all the while you were working at the restaurant. |00:34:55| GEORGE KAO We were all working in the restaurant. Then we saved some money. After one year we bought a first house. |00:35:03| BRODY Great. Where was your... |00:35:05| GEORGE KAO Also in Richardson. Also in Richardson. Yeah. It&#039 ; s only here. |00:35:10| BRODY Yeah. At this at that point the Asian community must have been growing in Richardson especially. |00:35:16| GEORGE KAO Yeah. Yeah. At that time, majority, at that time, pretty much is Taiwan immigrant or students. |00:35:27| BRODY Or students. |00:35:29| GEORGE KAO They come to UTD or UTA. Pretty much. Then probably after Vietnam fall, they got lots of Vietnamese refugees. |00:35:41| BRODY Right in 1975. 1976 |00:35:44| APRIL KAO Yeah |00:35:46| GEORGE KAO Then start to, I think eighty or mid-eighties. Tiananmen Square is 89, right? You know, |00:36:00| APRIL KAO After that, it started to... |00:36:01| GEORGE KAO It starts, pretty much like mid-eighties and then you&#039 ; ve got student from China at the time, really gradually open up. |00:36:11| BRODY Right. |00:36:12| GEORGE KAO So they let lots of students come to United States to study. So UTD is a pretty popular place. |00:36:18| BRODY Yes. |00:36:19| GEORGE KAO Lots of foreign students. |00:36:21| BRODY So that how did that impact the growing Asian population, you know, not just Vietnamese, but also, you know, Chinese and other Asian countries. |00:36:33| GEORGE KAO Indians. A huge population, right? |00:36:34| BRODY Yes. So during that time, Indians as well came. How did that change things at the restaurant where previously, when you first opened in 1974, the clientele had been mostly Caucasian, as you said. So did it change? |00:36:47| GEORGE KAO Totally...The dynamic of the restaurant business. Absolutely. |00:36:51| BRODY Tell me about that. |00:36:52| GEORGE KAO Yeah. And also there&#039 ; s lots of from Asia, right? It doesn&#039 ; t matter if it&#039 ; s Korea or India or Hong Kong, or Taiwan, or mainland China. They start to have their own culture to serve their own people. |00:37:11| BRODY Right. |00:37:13| GEORGE KAO Right. Get it. Just like for example, like in Richardson or Plano, there&#039 ; s so many Chinese are now there that the majority clientèle is Chinese people, very small percentage is American. Yes. Its just total...very authentic. |00:37:35| BRODY Right. |00:37:36| GEORGE KAO And like the Korean- big population. Korean probably has the most. I think probably Korean has the most population ratio. I&#039 ; m not sure. |00:37:48| BRODY Right. |00:37:49| GEORGE KAO Either Korea or India...So we talk about dynamics. |00:37:55| BRODY Yeah, no...So did you have more Asians coming to your restaurant at that time? What was that like? |00:38:02| GEORGE KAO Probably after our major remodel in 2008. |00:38:10| BRODY OK, fast forwarding to 2008. |00:38:12| GEORGE KAO Yeah. Now know that our restaurant started to be |upward hand motion indicating taking off|, there&#039 ; s lots of publicity. The newspaper writing review. People interview us. So we&#039 ; ve got a lot of Asian community come to our restaurant. |00:38:34| BRODY That&#039 ; s great. Well, I want to go back to that question of authenticity, because I think that&#039 ; s a really interesting aspect of studying Asian restaurants, is that there&#039 ; s that- what you&#039 ; re talking about the very quote unquote, authentic places where the people within that community go to eat. But then there are other places that are more popular among the sort of mainstream American...Do you feel? So that&#039 ; s what I was going to ask. Where would you put your restaurant, Royal China? |00:39:10| APRIL KAO We have a very authentic cuisine. And then we also cater to a lot of Caucasians because of the area we are in. We have to modify to, according to the tastes of the majority of the population. |00:39:28| BRODY Right. Right. So you have both the authentic and also the things that, you know, the people in the neighborhood that are your customers also enjoy. So you&#039 ; ve kind of created a dual aspect to your menu? |00:39:44| GEORGE KAO It&#039 ; s kind of like we also can like educate Americans. |00:39:49| BRODY Yeah, tell me about that. What do you mean by that? |00:39:51| GEORGE KAO Yeah. For example, I think that&#039 ; s her specialty (|points to April Kao). She&#039 ; ll bring, like, dumplings, soup dumplings, all those kind of, kind of like small plates like a tapas like the so-called dimsum type small plates. |00:40:06| BRODY Right. |00:40:07| GEORGE KAO She bring a lot of this and put it on the menu. In the authentic Taiwanese style, like a bao. So we add it on and we introduce to the neighborhood, to the community, so that we&#039 ; ve got a great response. And then pretty much like, since we started in 2008, right now, it&#039 ; s kind of like almost every Chinese restaurant is following in our footsteps. Everybody doing the same type of food. |00:40:41| BRODY So that&#039 ; s I mean, that&#039 ; s really interesting because how does that conversation happen? Like when you think, &quot ; Oh, I want to introduce something new,&quot ; what are you drawing on and what are you trying to accomplish? |00:40:56| APRIL KAO There are other Chinese restaurants, they so-called authentic Chinese food. They do also have stuff that cater to American people and they have two sets of menu. When Chinese walk in, they give you the authentic so-called menu. |00:41:19| GEORGE KAO All Chinese character. |00:41:20| APRIL KAO And I don&#039 ; t want to do that because that&#039 ; s, to me, we shouldn&#039 ; t discriminate anybody. All you know, regardless you&#039 ; re Asian or you&#039 ; re American, you can also try different food. I want everybody to accept the food we serve. And some people know what to order. Some majority, they would just stick to whatever they&#039 ; re used to, you know, General Chicken always. |00:41:51| GEORGE KAO Their comfort food. |00:41:54| APRIL KAO So we do have Chinese people that love our food. You know, they will come and have big parties and all their families come and told us &quot ; Wow. This is the best.&quot ; So that&#039 ; s really, really rewarding. And we have American people that know that we do serve authentic food. |00:42:21| BRODY You struck a balance there between those two things. So. Well, that&#039 ; s really nice. And I like the education piece of it that, you know, that you can have the authentic foods.. |00:42:34| APRIL KAO Like the meatball...Pearl Rice meatball that...I make that. I used to make that all the time for my kids, for my own family&#039 ; s, you know, all kinds of special gathering. I made that and I thought, &quot ; Wow, this everybody loves it. Why don&#039 ; t we serve this at the restaurant?&quot ; So I started to put in things that that I think people would like. And, yes, that became quite popular. |00:43:05| BRODY That&#039 ; s really interesting. Did you run into in or your family, in the course of running the restaurant, any racism, or, you know, issues like that that were more challenging? |00:43:20| APRIL KAO Yeah. |00:43:20| GEORGE KAO From time to time. And I think that that&#039 ; s a pretty universally every race, you will...You will run into some people. Just not kind. Not nice. Biased. |00:43:38| BRODY Did you feel that there were in particular stereotypes about Chinese food that that you were up against, that people had a maybe an idea about Chinese food being this or that? How did you deal with things like that? |00:43:57| GEORGE KAO You mean how we...or their perception? |00:44:04| APRIL KAO And people have their you know, they are used to wherever they go, you know, like a restaurant, certain tastes, you know, they used to that. And when you go, when they come to our restaurant, it&#039 ; s not what they normally, you know, not their normal flavor, you know, to their liking, we try to fix it. We try to make it the way they like it. And then if they don&#039 ; t like it, we can&#039 ; t help it. |00:44:40| BRODY That is true. Back to the starting of the business, and I know neither one of you was necessarily right there when it started, but what do you know about the sort of the nuts and bolts of that process? Like, obviously they decided on- your dad decided on the location. Did he- was he renting? Or did he buy it outright or? |00:45:04| GEORGE KAO It is leased. |00:45:05| BRODY It is leased. OK, and so was that? |00:45:08| GEORGE KAO Until nowadays it&#039 ; s still leased. |00:45:10| BRODY Tell me about that. That piece of it, the sort of the real estate decisions that go into running a restaurant. |00:45:21| GEORGE KAO Landlord side or our side? |00:45:22| BRODY Just your own your experiences of sort of the business side of it, the, you know, renting the space, leasing the space also on the city side, getting permits and things like that. What is that like, what has that been like for you? |00:45:38| APRIL KAO We, we were not here, so however our father went through, we have no idea. But I know that he and the landlord, Mr. |00:45:52| GEORGE KAO Henry S. Miller |00:45:53| APRIL KAO Henry S. Miller III had a very good relationship. He was, Mr. Miller, was really generous, very kind man. So the relationship between the two lasted a long time. I know every time the new lease is |00:46:15| GEORGE KAO New lease |00:46:18| APRIL KAO Needs a renew, they would send us the lease and Buck would sign it and send it back. |00:46:26| GEORGE KAO That&#039 ; s it |00:46:27| APRIL KAO Very simple. They&#039 ; re so easy. I know the last lease that I was there was like ten dollars per square foot and he every time would increase a little, OK and, |00:46:45| GEORGE KAO Which is understandable. |00:46:45| APRIL KAO Yeah. Ten dollars and then he&#039 ; d sign it and then send it back. It was just so easy until 2006. That&#039 ; s a different story. |00:46:54| BRODY What happened in 2006? |00:46:55| GEORGE KAO That was the most dramatic event in our restaurant. |00:46:58| BRODY Really what happened? |00:47:00| GEORGE KAO Most dramatic, most theatrical. |00:47:04| APRIL KAO 2006. I mean at the time all other restaurants like Vietnamese restaurant, Thai, Korean foods all came to Dallas and Chinese was starting to go downhill because too much, too many restaurants are too saturated and, you know, too many, too many buffet places. And it was really difficult. |00:47:35| GEORGE KAO Nothing exciting. It&#039 ; s just the same. Every restaurant is the same- Chinese restaurant. |00:47:39| APRIL KAO So the Mr. Miller&#039 ; s daughter took over managing the property. She decided to change the concept. No more Chinese in her property. She wanted other Vietnamese or Thai restaurant for our location. So she didn&#039 ; t want to renew the lease. |00:48:07| BRODY Oh, that must have been difficult. |00:48:10| GEORGE KAO Yeah, they wanted more sales. So they want a new business to generate more sales. So they said, based on your sales, it&#039 ; s not meet our standard. |00:48:25| BRODY So how did you respond to that? |00:48:27| APRIL KAO So we tried to talk her, you know, negotiate and she said no, we-you know. |00:48:33| GEORGE KAO You are... |00:48:34| APRIL KAO Yeah. No more. So we were ready to move. I actually found other locations and then I hired a team of three restaurant consultants. And the consultants...One of the consultants came to Royal China at the time and they said, &quot ; No, you should stay here.&quot ; I said, &quot ; No, the landlord didn&#039 ; t want us to stay, so how can we you know?&quot ; He said, &quot ; Let me talk to her. I know the brothers.&quot ; So, so he made a phone call and said, &quot ; Don&#039 ; t sign any lease with anybody for a month, give us a month.&quot ; So I work with the...All three of them. One was the architect. He started to do the design and then I worked with the other two on the menu side. I came up with the menu and they helped me kind of go into that and added to the menu. And by the end of the month, we presented the plan to Jackie and the team. So later she called and say, &quot ; OK, it&#039 ; s green light!&quot ; You know, so w? Got the 10 year lease. |00:50:02| BRODY That&#039 ; s great. So tell me about what the changes were. What was the new plan? And what was different about it from the old. |00:50:11| GEORGE KAO Revolutionized! |George Kao laughs| |00:50:15| APRIL KAO We knocked down everything, the wall, every, every wall, everything. |00:50:21| BRODY Had it been pretty much the same since the old, the old Safari days. |00:50:26| APRIL KAO No. Totally. |00:50:26| BRODY OK, so, you had changed it in between? |00:50:29| APRIL KAO We totally changed the whole look. |00:50:35| GEORGE KAO And to move the whole dumpling bar. That&#039 ; s her idea. |00:50:40| APRIL KAO We put, we put a dumpling bar, I mean the kitchen right in the dining room so people can see it. And later we have the hand-pulled noodles. So the open kitchen in Chinese food with cooks that are making handmade dumplings there, it was the first concept in Dallas. So that that was a very... became a really big hit. |00:51:10| BRODY And that was your idea. |00:51:11| GEORGE KAO Yeah. Absolutely. |00:51:12| BRODY This is had so you had this team of... |00:51:15| GEORGE KAO I&#039 ; m a very lucky man. |George Kao laughs| |00:51:17| BRODY Absolutely. So... And then the menu. Tell me about the other changes in the menu that were part of that proposal. |00:51:24| APRIL KAO I mean, we&#039 ; re tried not to have this huge menu like every Chinese restaurant has. You know, we tried to simplify but diversify. So we had dumplings. We have noodles and different kinds of noodles. And we add in a little bit of the curries and a little bit of the little small plates that kind of cater to all different you know... |00:51:54| GEORGE KAO And we have kind of start to emphasize on the Shanghai style cooking and Sichuan style to balance out. |00:52:04| BRODY So you made sure that both of those were incorporated as well. So were there things that were removed from the menu that people still wanted? |00:52:14| GEORGE KAO Oh, yes. Of course. |George Kao laughs| |00:52:17| APRIL KAO I mean, almost every restaurant has Broccoli Beef, Sweet and Sour Chicken. And we kind of not have that on our menu because there&#039 ; s just too many items. But we can still make those items if people ask for it. |00:52:35| BRODY So do people ask for them still? |00:52:37| GEORGE KAO Everyday. And they don&#039 ; t even check the menu. They just come &quot ; Sweet and Sour Chicken. It&#039 ; s not on the menu.&quot ; I say, &quot ; We know that. We still make it OK.&quot ; |Recording stops briefly here| |00:52:51| BRODY I&#039 ; m restarting the recording and we were talking about the changes in the menu that happened in 2006 and the reaction to those changes. So let&#039 ; s pick up where we left off. So you&#039 ; ve been happy with the reception of the new floor plan. And what do you think people like the most about the new? What do you think people like the most about the new set up? |00:53:21| APRIL KAO OK, we started in 2006, but the restaurant didn&#039 ; t finish the renovation until 2008. And most people, when they come in, they&#039 ; re shocked to see this totally new restaurant. All new. I mean, we had marble, beautiful marble countertop, you know, some stainless steel. |00:53:53| GEORGE KAO More contemporary. |00:53:55| APRIL KAO And mixed in with the old. So it&#039 ; s really contemporary and nice and clean restaurant at the time. So. People kind of went crazy about it. |00:54:08| GEORGE KAO And many they&#039 ; re like, &quot ; Wow!&quot ; |00:54:11| APRIL KAO Everything was new. |00:54:12| BRODY Yeah, well, especially if you&#039 ; ve had four generations of families coming to the old place. Tell me about some of the you know, just if you can imagine that the first time that some of those older families, established families came back, what was, what were the main comments you got? What was their reaction? |00:54:30| GEORGE KAO Yeah. Like, you know, basically speechless. So totally, in awe. |00:54:35| APRIL KAO Wow. That wow factor. |00:54:39| BRODY Is it, now is it more crowded now than it used to be? |00:54:43| APRIL KAO Yes. |00:54:44| GEORGE KAO Well, you know, from 2008, |00:54:48| APRIL KAO The business increased. |00:54:50| GEORGE KAO We had almost like swing |makes upward movement with hands|. |00:54:54| BRODY That&#039 ; s amazing. |00:54:55| APRIL KAO Double, triple of the business. |00:54:58| BRODY That&#039 ; s amazing. And is that partly because of increasing the capacity? |00:55:02| GEORGE KAO No. |00:55:03| BRODY No? |00:55:04| APRIL KAO No. The restaurant&#039 ; s still the same size, but more popular, became more popular. The business. And we&#039 ; re packed almost like every, every night. There&#039 ; s a line. Forty five minutes wait, an hour wait, you know. Never before. |00:55:19| BRODY That wasn&#039 ; t how it was before. So that sounds like that 2006 decision... |00:55:26| GEORGE KAO 2008. |00:55:26| BRODY Yeah. 2006 and 2008. |00:55:29| GEORGE KAO Start the process. |00:55:29| BRODY .That was a real turning point for the restaurant, wasn&#039 ; t it? What would you say your biggest sellers are today? |00:55:37| APRIL KAO Well, General Chicken, still the biggest seller |00:55:40| GEORGE KAO We should put it in a different category. |00:55:43| APRIL KAO OK, dumplings, dumplings are almost like every... |00:55:46| GEORGE KAO Soup dumpling. |00:55:49| APRIL KAO Soup dumplings. |00:55:49| BRODY Yeah. Was that the ... |00:55:52| GEORGE KAO Actually is General Kao&#039 ; s Chicken. No doubt. You know, the universal number one! |00:55:57| APRIL KAO General Chicken, Dry Stirred Beef, and Lo Mein is still very popular. Yeah. |00:56:02| BRODY Yeah. So have people cultivated new favorites? |00:56:10| GEORGE KAO Oh, yes. |00:56:11| APRIL KAO So those dumplings where they eat them, something that you had served before? |00:56:15| APRIL KAO We ha we had dumplings, but very simple. It&#039 ; s just like pork dumpling, that&#039 ; s all. |00:56:21| BRODY So tell me about the change. |00:56:22| APRIL KAO And then we added four different kinds of dumplings...Soup dumplings we added. And then we added shrimp, chicken, and vegetable dumplings with the pork we already had. And then I colorized the dough so each one has its own colors. We use vegetable to dye the dough. |00:56:49| GEORGE KAO Natural ingredients. |00:56:51| APRIL KAO Yeah. Like, we use spinach for the... |00:56:57| GEORGE KAO Spinach puree,. |00:56:58| APRIL KAO Vegetable dumplings. Chicken, we use carrots and then we use beet, you know, red colors for the shrimp dumplings. So it was very colorful. People would see that this dumpling sampler and go, &quot ; Wow!&quot ; You know, it&#039 ; s not, not just tastes good, they look pretty too. |00:57:16| BRODY Sounds very pretty. And it&#039 ; s an open kitchen so they can see the dumplings being made as well. How do you serve those dumplings? Are they in a steamer? |00:57:26| APRIL KAO Steamer. |00:57:26| BRODY Yeah, it&#039 ; s a little dramatic as well. |00:57:28| APRIL KAO We steam them so they can see all the other stack of the dumpling baskets there being steamed and also making the dumplings right in front of them. |00:57:41| BRODY So tell me about the chefs. I know when your dad came first, he had, you said the two Taiwanese chefs. |00:57:51| GEORGE KAO Ancient now. Yeah. |00:57:51| BRODY Oh, so how about now? What are your...How do you? |00:57:55| GEORGE KAO You mean chefs nowadays. |00:57:57| BRODY Yes. Did the same. I mean, not the same people, of course. |00:58:02| GEORGE KAO No, I say maybe. That, when the restaurant opened, that chef probably, probably already gone. They pretty much the same age as my dad. So my dad already passed away. Twenty years. So I am assuming that generation probably really fade away. |00:58:20| BRODY Right. So how did you keep finding chefs that were authentic to the types of food that you wanted to serve and also flexible enough to adapt to the clientele? |00:58:32| APRIL KAO We try to find them locally, you know, by word of mouth, say so and so working somewhere. And then you know, we put out a search and I did, we did bring in from China, one from China, two from China and one from Taiwan. You know, that we got them green card and then work permits and then green card to work here. |00:59:04| BRODY Right. So that&#039 ; s an interaction with the government. We were talking earlier about permits for the restaurant itself. And here you&#039 ; re interacting with, you know, immigration and so on. |00:59:14| APRIL KAO It was easier. |00:59:16| GEORGE KAO And the some is a local talent. So we get them. |00:59:18| APRIL KAO It was easier back then. But now it&#039 ; s getting harder and harder to find people, especially nowadays. |00:59:24| BRODY Right. |00:59:25| APRIL KAO Just so hard. And people change professions. This is not profession that people wanted to continue. So, it&#039 ; s getting really hard. |00:59:39| BRODY So how are you meeting those challenges? What are what are your strategies? Still working on it? |00:59:44| GEORGE KAO The only solution in any business right now. Like service, retail? One solution- pay more. |00:59:54| APRIL KAO Yes. |00:59:57| GEORGE KAO All those small businesses, even at retail. Right? Especially Christmas just around corner. All the retail stores want to hire extra people, they just can&#039 ; t find them. One of the main factor is all the big block stores like Amazon and Walmart. I think you know that, right? They hire tens of thousand people. To start with...minimum wage plus benefits plus. So small business .is just very, very difficult. |01:00:32| BRODY It&#039 ; s been challenging |01:00:33| GEORGE KAO Very challenging. |01:00:35| APRIL KAO We even tried to hire unskilled cook to train. It&#039 ; s actually nowhere to be found. So the only solution is to, to offer more money. You know, it just can&#039 ; t increase pay enough, fast enough. It&#039 ; s just really hard to keep people. |01:00:59| BRODY Right. That makes me think about the kind of what we&#039 ; re talking about before. When you first opened the restaurant, there wasn&#039 ; t you know, there weren&#039 ; t any other Chinese restaurants here. And now, you know, at some point there was, as you said, a saturation. And so where are we now in terms of competition for Chinese restaurants? Is it at a a peak level? |01:01:24| APRIL KAO So many people still opening the restaurant. We don&#039 ; t know why and it&#039 ; s so difficult to find skilled worker and, you know, right now, but they are still opening. |01:01:38| BRODY Why do you think that is? |01:01:42| APRIL KAO Not sure why I, you know... |01:01:48| GEORGE KAO People just want to be their own boss. |01:01:50| APRIL KAO They want to own their own business and not knowing other things to do? They think owning a restaurant, opening a restaurant. It&#039 ; s the easy solution, but it&#039 ; s really not easy. |01:02:05| GEORGE KAO And also, especially after a pandemic. Right. The businesses start to come back- the restaurant business, the hospitality business. So it makes lots of people interested. OK, this is a good time to invest in the restaurant business. OK, but at the same time, everybody just right now start to find out, most challenging part is the labor shortage. You can have money, you might have a similar skill, you don&#039 ; t have enough labor to fill in every position. |01:02:46| BRODY And there are many positions to fill in a restaurant. In the early days, I know... Right now there&#039 ; s a labor shortage. In the early days of the restaurant, were those positions filled primarily by family in your case or did you hire people? |01:03:05| APRIL KAO We hired people and it was easy at the time to find who were people willing to work in the restaurant. Majority are immigrants. You know, we, as the immigrant ourself, we&#039 ; d give other immigrants the opportunities. And to this day, we still hire immigrants and a lot of refugees. You know, by giving them an opportunity, I feel like we&#039 ; re taking care of them and giving them their first start. |01:03:48| BRODY That&#039 ; s great. And building connections within the community. So on the subject of connecting with communities, how connected do you feel that your restaurant is to the larger Chinese community in Dallas? And how has that been over time? Do you feel that there&#039 ; s a strong connection there? |01:04:13| APRIL KAO Our restaurant, actually, it&#039 ; s away from the majority of the Chinese communities. We&#039 ; re in the majority of the Caucasian populations. So I, you know, from time to time, we have Asian come to our restaurants and probably that&#039 ; s the only connection we have with them. |01:04:39| GEORGE KAO So pretty much they say, strongest connection, neighborhood and the Jewish community. |01:04:47| BRODY Oh, yeah tell me about that. |01:04:48| GEORGE KAO It&#039 ; s our big supporter. |01:04:51| BRODY Yeah, that was going to be one of my questions I&#039 ; ve got written down. What are your connections with other groups within Dallas, the Jewish community, the African-American community, the Latino community or any others? |01:05:06| GEORGE KAO Probably our strongest connection is the Jewish community? |01:05:10| APRIL KAO We&#039 ; re in the neighborhood. |01:05:11| GEORGE KAO Yeah...demographic-wise the North Dallas is lot of Jewish concentrate. Lots of synagogues. Lots of business there. And also is some historical reason, Jewish people love Chinese food. |01:05:30| BRODY Why do you think that is? |01:05:33| GEORGE KAO They say it&#039 ; s back to centuries ago? This is a back- old days. Before the OK, after the Russian Revolution, early start of the 20th century, lots of Jewishcommunities, they kind of run away from the Communists, they started to move to China. It all start from there. The majority, they moved to Shanghai, the largest city. |01:06:02| APRIL KAO Almost twenty thousand people at the time was allowed into China. And they lived in Shanghai for until after World War II, and they started to move back. I was just watching a program about it. |01:06:18| BRODY Really interesting. |01:06:20| APRIL KAO So that&#039 ; s how they learned to play Mah Jong. |01:06:23| GEORGE KAO Yeah, that&#039 ; s how the Jewish ladies learned to play Mah Jong. It all start from Shanghai. |01:06:30| BRODY It&#039 ; s really interesting. So tell me about your customers who are Jewish and the sort of the relationships that have built up between your restaurant, your family, and the Jewish community. |01:06:42| GEORGE KAO We&#039 ; re old. Like ancient culture, right? Like Indian ancient culture. So it&#039 ; s a mutual respect about like your country, your people, my people, Jewish group...It&#039 ; s mutual respect about for historic. |01:07:00| APRIL KAO All family-oriented |01:07:02| GEORGE KAO And also very family oriented. And Jewish people are also very loyal and very straightforward. They really connect with you. They let you know what they think. They&#039 ; re very honest, very honest opinion is just that, &quot ; Hey, George, you...I think you need to check it out. This is a little bit different.&quot ; We love this feedback. |01:07:38| BRODY So you appreciate that. |01:07:39| GEORGE KAO So we really appreciate that. ]They eat Chinese food on Christmas Day. |01:07:46| GEORGE KAO Oh, yes. |01:07:47| APRIL KAO That&#039 ; s the only restaurant that opened and everyone else is, you know, closed and have family gathering at Christmas. But Chinese restaurants are open. So that&#039 ; s the biggest day for the Jewish to go eat Chinese food and watch movie after. |01:08:06| BRODY So you&#039 ; re open on Christmas Day. |01:08:10| GEORGE KAO We used to close before remodel. OK, that&#039 ; s another top to add to that. Before we remodel, we always closed Christmas. We never think about opening because it&#039 ; s family time. Right? So after we remodel all the neighborhood was so impressed by it and all those neighborhood Jewish communities approach us. &quot ; Hey, George, you need to open on Christmas. We&#039 ; ll all show up. You will be surprised.&quot ; |01:08:45| BRODY And were you? |01:08:46| GEORGE KAO Yes. OK, so we said, &quot ; Ok, ok, well we&#039 ; ll start this year, we&#039 ; ll see.&quot ; I still remember that day I come to restaurant first, probably right after lunchtime, because we still closed at lunchtime on Christmas Day. We open for dinner, probably around to 2:00 or 3:00. I already see the line start to form outside. I&#039 ; ll call April. &quot ; Come here fast, already, start to line up outside!&quot ; |01:09:26| BRODY Oh, that&#039 ; s incredible. You were surprised. |01:09:29| GEORGE KAO That&#039 ; s been every since- our Christmas Eve, Christmas Day. The two most significant things...all the neighborhood, especially regular Jewish families, they all made the reservation sometimes, they make every year. |01:09:49| BRODY A standing reservation. |01:09:49| GEORGE KAO Yeah. Yeah. So later... So on that day, those two days, we basically stopped taking reservations about several months ago already. Already full. |01:10:00| APRIL KAO So it&#039 ; s really rewarding to see how people support us and how much they love us. And so regardless how tired we are, you know, when we see that kind of support, it&#039 ; s really I mean... |01:10:18| BRODY It sounds like you&#039 ; re a meaningful part of a lot of people&#039 ; s lives. A lot of families lives over all these years. |01:10:27| APRIL KAO Generations. |01:10:27| GEORGE KAO Very rewarding, you know, you see that Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, all the neighborhood people show up, they all know each other. And you really feel... |01:10:36| APRIL KAO The, like, whole neighborhood of the Jewish there. |01:10:41| BRODY That&#039 ; s great. Yeah. Can you can we just talk for a second about the atmosphere in the restaurant? What is it like the spirit in there when it&#039 ; s when it&#039 ; s a busy night. What are you both doing and how does it feel in there? Maybe if you could paint a picture with words. |01:11:03| APRIL KAO It&#039 ; s lively. |01:11:04| GEORGE KAO Yeah. |claps| |01:11:06| APRIL KAO So, you know, when you when you see these people that&#039 ; s smiling, happy face. You know, we, I usually go around the table and check how&#039 ; s everything going. And, you know, they tell you it&#039 ; s great and so and so to your server. This is great. |01:11:24| GEORGE KAO So it is a fun environment, especially in the front of the bar. Our bar is so popular, even just a several seat bar, probably eight. We only have eight seats. No more than eight. When a busy time, customers politely fighting for the seat. It&#039 ; s not like really, you know, sort of a punch. But, you know... |01:11:59| BRODY There&#039 ; s a big demand. |01:12:00| GEORGE KAO Yeah. Then they calling, just &quot ; two seats for me.&quot ; I say, &quot ; Ok,ok,ok,ok.&quot ; This is what I remember, hospitality business and you need to have a certain kind of personality and character. |01:12:23| BRODY And what do you think that what are the main gifts that you have that you&#039 ; re bringing to your time in the restaurant? Both of you. |01:12:35| GEORGE KAO Oh, to me, you know, it is my personality. I&#039 ; m a...I love people. I love to connect with people. To make everybody walk into the door, you feel that you are satisfied. We do our best to accommodate. We want to have a great experience. |01:12:59| BRODY What does hospitality mean to you? |01:13:02| GEORGE KAO Yeah, absolutely. Totally. It just does the hospitality. As it&#039 ; s also hospitality. |01:13:09| APRIL KAO And as a cook, you know, you love to see people enjoying your food. So I go around and make sure that you enjoy your food, everything good, you know? |01:13:21| BRODY And making sure people are satisfied and like you said, getting feedback that you find useful. What about the...Sort of the again, back to the nuts and bolts sourcing of ingredients and so on. It sounds like back in the 70s that might have been a little bit challenging. How did they do it? How did you do it? Back in the early days, how did you get the ingredients that you needed and so on? Was it difficult? |01:13:52| APRIL KAO There was a supplier. There was probably only the one or two supplier that would supply imported goods-cans and meat. But these days, the imports are getting so difficult and so expensive. And plus, I try to get away from using canned food imported. Not only they&#039 ; re expensive and they&#039 ; re you know, people don&#039 ; t like the idea of canned foods. So we try to use fresh, local food, local ingredients. |01:14:35| BRODY So do you source them? Do you go to the farmer&#039 ; s market or is it more Asian grocery stores or suppliers? |01:14:43| APRIL KAO I go to Asian grocery stores and try to look for local beef. There&#039 ; s a smaller farm that would have local beef. Vegetables just wherever we can get them. There&#039 ; s a local farmer and he grows vegetables, but just not enough for our demand. |01:15:09| BRODY Right. How much do you go through in a week of typical of meat, vegetables, things like that? |01:15:16| APRIL KAO We go. Every day, there&#039 ; s like cases of- three or four cases of chicken. Couple of cases of beef. And broccoli, every day is like three or four cases. Mushrooms, a couple of cases a day. We have produce and meat come in every day. Nothing frozen. Try not to use canned food. Right now, I probably don&#039 ; t have any canned food. |01:15:48| BRODY It&#039 ; s really interesting and it sounds very challenging to keep up. |01:15:51| APRIL KAO But now we have three or four, four suppliers. So, you know, if this one doesn&#039 ; t have it, I&#039 ; ll go to the next one. Yeah, luckily. |01:16:03| BRODY OK, OK, you&#039 ; ve been in the same location for, you know, the whole time physically, so you&#039 ; ve lots of neighbors have come and gone. What is the sort of their relationship with the plaza that Royal China is in? |01:16:19| GEORGE KAO Oh, you mean the businesses. |01:16:20| BRODY Yeah, the other- your neighbors. |01:16:22| GEORGE KAO The other businesses. We always have very good relationship with our neighbors, but their business, you know, sometimes they just, for example, they don&#039 ; t make money, so they not resign the contract. some just leave. |01:16:46| BRODY Yeah. There&#039 ; s been a lot of turn around. |01:16:49| GEORGE KAO Lot of turnaround.Yeah. Yeah, yeah. |01:16:49| BRODY In that plaza. |01:16:51| GEORGE KAO In our corner, only oldest tenant- I think only us |01:16:59| APRIL KAO and Ken&#039 ; s Mens Shop. Two of the oldest ones. |01:17:03| BRODY Two originals. |01:17:04| GEORGE KAO Yeah. |01:17:05| APRIL KAO Our neighbor store Toy Maven. The week, after we closed. We closed one week in July for vacation and when we reopened, Candice is the owner, came to us and said &quot ; You have no idea. After six o&#039 ; clock, this whole shopping center almost empty because you guys are closed. The parking lot empty because you were not open.&quot ; |01:17:39| BRODY That&#039 ; s really interesting. And you would never know. |01:17:42| APRIL KAO So she said the landlord better know that. How much contribution you brought to the center. |01:17:50| BRODY Yeah. That&#039 ; s a good way to measure that for sure. Do you advertise at all? |01:17:58| APRIL KAO Not really. |01:17:59| BRODY Word of mouth, primarily. |01:18:02| APRIL KAO Word of mouth, primarily. |01:18:03| GEORGE KAO Word of mouth. And also, we have a lot of personal friends. They own a newspaper. They are our loyal customers. It&#039 ; s more like personal friend. |01:18:18| BRODY Right. |01:18:19| GEORGE KAO So they&#039 ; ll say, &quot ; Come on I, I want to write something.&quot ; Yeah. We say, &quot ; No, no, no.&quot ; They just love to tell the story. |01:18:30| BRODY Well it&#039 ; s a great story. |01:18:32| GEORGE KAO Oh yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. |01:18:34| BRODY Tell me about your dad. What was he like? His personality. Because I know that he was really the spirit behind the restaurant when he was running it. Tell me what he was like. |01:18:46| GEORGE KAO Yeah, he&#039 ; s pretty much kind of like me, but he&#039 ; s more traditional. More- a little bit more old fashioned, but, he actually is probably, out of his generation, he probably is more Westernized because he&#039 ; s been studying the English and he&#039 ; s being stationed on the Washington, and so he&#039 ; s a very open minded and have a great people skills. Loved to connect with people. Very outgoing. And also he&#039 ; s a very knowledgeable person, very knowledgeable person. even write a book. Write the poems. |01:19:43| BRODY Did he come up with the original menu? |01:19:46| GEORGE KAO No, I don&#039 ; t think he did. |laughs| |01:19:50| BRODY The chef did. |01:19:52| APRIL KAO The chef did. Yeah. |01:19:53| GEORGE KAO And chef, and my mom. And everybody contribute, everybody will give their... |01:20:01| BRODY their input. |01:20:02| GEORGE KAO Yeah. |01:20:02| BRODY Well, he sounds like a fun man. |01:20:07| APRIL KAO They call him Buck. His name is Shu Chang Kao. But somehow they call him Buck and they call the restaurant &quot ; Buck.&quot ; &quot ; Let&#039 ; s go to Buck&#039 ; s place.&quot ; |01:20:18| GEORGE KAO Yeah. |01:20:18| BRODY That&#039 ; s what his original customers. |01:20:21| APRIL KAO Yeah, right. His original customers. |01:20:22| GEORGE KAO Right. And now people &quot ; Go to George&#039 ; s.&quot ; &quot ; Go to Aprils.&quot ; |Laughs|. |01:20:24| BRODY Do people say that? |01:20:25| GEORGE KAO Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. |01:20:27| APRIL KAO Now &quot ; George&#039 ; s Place.&quot ; |01:20:27| GEORGE KAO We love that connection. |01:20:32| BRODY It sounds like exactly that. The connection that you&#039 ; ve built with the, with the community. And so we kind of touched on this earlier. But on cultural holidays and special events, do you do or historically, have you done special events for Chinese New Year, for example? |01:20:54| GEORGE KAO Mmmm. OK, we used to, but now that we still do, it&#039 ; s our own celebration for Chinese New Year for employees. |01:21:06| BRODY OK, tell me about that. How is that? |01:21:09| GEORGE KAO We cook a, you know... |01:21:12| APRIL KAO Feast. |01:21:12| GEORGE KAO Yeah. Big feast for everybody. And the Chinese tradition is also so-called &quot ; red envelope.&quot ; So that&#039 ; s pretty much every business sends out that extra bonus to all the employees who work for you. |01:21:29| BRODY So you have the feast. And so the restaurant&#039 ; s closed and the employees all...And then you do the red envelopes. |01:21:38| GEORGE KAO Yes. Absolutely. Yeah. |01:21:41| BRODY That&#039 ; s really nice. There must be something that your longtime employees are looking forward to. |01:21:46| GEORGE KAO |Laughs| And you know, absolutely. |01:21:49| BRODY Well. The past few years have been a difficult time, definitely with Covid and everything. But even before that, here in Dallas, we were hit with a tornado. So tell me about what- how you all fared at Royal China with the tornado. |01:22:10| APRIL KAO Well, Royal China was kind of lucky. We didn&#039 ; t have really too much of the damage except just out of power and some AC units here and there. So we closed for nine days. Our neighbors in stores across the street, like Central Market was not lucky. Like they had to close for a long time and rebuild. And fortunately, they reopened. So, I mean, for nine days we feel really, really lucky. |01:22:55| BRODY So that tornado was in October 2019. |01:22:58| GEORGE KAO October 20th. |01:22:58| APRIL KAO 20, 2019 20, 2019. |01:23:02| GEORGE KAO October 20. |01:23:03| APRIL KAO 20 of 2019. Yes. |01:23:07| GEORGE KAO Cowboys played Philadelphia. Sunday Night Football game. |01:23:11| APRIL KAO OK. |01:23:12| BRODY I mean, it&#039 ; s a good way to remember. Who was playing? |01:23:15| GEORGE KAO Philadelphia,. |01:23:15| BRODY Philadelphia and the Cowboys. |01:23:18| GEORGE KAO And Cowboys. Play at home. |01:23:21| BRODY That&#039 ; s right. |01:23:21| APRIL KAO That was really scary. We were all at the restaurant. |01:23:25| BRODY How was that evening for you? You were at the restaurant? |01:23:28| APRIL KAO We were at the restaurant. Our daughter call us and say, &quot ; Mom! Tornado&#039 ; s coming your way.&quot ; I go, &quot ; OK?&quot ; |01:23:36| GEORGE KAO We have no idea. |01:23:37| APRIL KAO You know, tornado never came, never really touched down for all this year. I mean, OK. And then she called again a few minutes later. &quot ; The tornado was really coming your way!&quot ; She was crying. You know, I, I go. So I came out of my office and it&#039 ; s &quot ; OK, what should we do?&quot ; And then at the time, it was really windy. The wind was howling and they tried to get the door closed. And then people was standing at the big window and trying to look out. I say, &quot ; Stay away, get away from the...&quot ; |01:24:12| GEORGE KAO Customers. |01:24:13| APRIL KAO &quot ; Get away from the door!&quot ; And we have no idea what to do. We had no place to hide. |01:24:19| GEORGE KAO We just had...Most of our customers- very calm. |01:24:22| APRIL KAO But we had half of the customers you know, half of the store was with customer in it. And luckily, it was, it was quickly really very, very quick. |01:24:35| GEORGE KAO Probably thirty seconds. Yeah. |01:24:37| BRODY So no damage other than no power. No power. |01:24:40| GEORGE KAO No, electricity. That&#039 ; s it. The electricity, the power come back exact one week. Sunday through following Sunday. Rght? |01:24:52| APRIL KAO We closed one night. |01:24:53| BRODY So you were closed. |01:24:54| GEORGE KAO The access we need is a gas company. ATMOS. They came to check every business one by one... |01:25:04| BRODY And there a lot. |01:25:05| GEORGE KAO And make sure no gas leaking. Then they give you a green tag. |01:25:08| BRODY To open again. |01:25:09| GEORGE KAO To open. |01:25:09| APRIL KAO And our house got hit too. |01:25:12| BRODY Oh your house got hit. I&#039 ; m sorry. |01:25:15| GEORGE KAO Not too bad, all things considered. Our garage. Greenhouse. Boom. |01:25:26| APRIL KAO Compared to our neighbor, we still consider we are lucky. |01:25:30| BRODY There was so much damage in such a short time. |01:25:33| GEORGE KAO Yeah, but know this tornado is no compared to pandemic. That&#039 ; s totally...Yeah, absolutely. Nobody ever experienced that before. |01:25:46| BRODY Yeah. That was my next question. |01:25:49| GEORGE KAO It was crazy. |01:25:50| BRODY Let&#039 ; s go back to January, February, March. 2020. |01:25:55| GEORGE KAO Oh, when it started? |01:25:56| BRODY When it&#039 ; s starting... How did? |01:25:59| GEORGE KAO When they started it&#039 ; s ok. Not about...You don&#039 ; t really feel that much different. |01:26:04| APRIL KAO January or February, were still very busy. |01:26:07| GEORGE KAO Yeah. |01:26:08| APRIL KAO Up till March before we closed...Before the governor closed the restaurant on the seventeenth or eighteenth. So we...that we were only allowed to take out. So we started to have the take out business and take out actually grew. You know, people needed a place to eat. So we only open at night doing takeout. |01:26:40| GEORGE KAO Yeah. |01:26:41| BRODY So takeout only. So how did that change your employees&#039 ; situation, their hours, your workflow? Because if everybody was doing takeout, that&#039 ; s a whole different way of doing business, right? So how did you- what was it like and how did you handle it? |01:27:00| APRIL KAO We closed during the day and then...well...server? We have to stop them, hold their job. And then the front of the house, everybody is working. And we have, we had a couple of the server came and help us, answering phone, packing take out order, and take out actually was very busy. It was enough to sustain our regular pay and we pay everybody all the kitchen staff the same. They all keep the same pay. |01:27:40| GEORGE KAO Only wait staff because you&#039 ; re not open for business, you can&#039 ; t hire. |01:27:43| APRIL KAO Right. So it was not too bad for us. |01:27:47| BRODY That&#039 ; s good. Is takeout still booming? |01:27:50| APRIL KAO No, not at this point. |01:27:52| GEORGE KAO Right now is pretty much coming back. |01:27:54| APRIL KAO People came to eat. |01:27:55| GEORGE KAO Like in 19. |01:27:56| BRODY Right. |01:27:57| GEORGE KAO On the last year, it&#039 ; s reverse of the business. Normally, or just the same like. 70 dining, 30 take out to-go. Pandemic reverse. Seventy percent pickup. Dining, when you&#039 ; re open, you only can seat 50 percent, remember? First, when this started to 25 percent, we&#039 ; re not open. Because 25 percent, it makes no sense. You open 25 percent. It doesn&#039 ; t translate to anything. So just concentrate, you do the pick-up to-go. Pick-up to-go is so easy. Oh, that&#039 ; s crazy. |laughs| |01:28:56| BRODY Well, and now you&#039 ; re back to 100 percent. |01:28:59| GEORGE KAO Yeah, yeah, yeah. |01:29:02| BRODY You mentioned the Cowboys earlier because the tornado hit on the day of the Cowboys game. Do you have a lot of celebrities in your restaurant? |01:29:14| APRIL KAO Oh, yes. |01:29:15| GEORGE KAO I should consider in Dallas, considering we&#039 ; re in Dallas, not on East Coast, West Coast. In Chinese, restaurant, of course, we&#039 ; re not a steakhouse, right? But I think we can...Pretty good shape of celebrities. |01:29:31| BRODY Do you have any stories you want to share? |01:29:35| GEORGE KAO For example, like President Bush? Mr. and Mrs. Bush, they used, but they&#039 ; re still living now very close to us. The GW been here one time. Mrs. Bush has been there several times. And we have what- lots of people, I can&#039 ; t remember. |01:29:57| APRIL KAO We have I mean, we had, old Cowboy team, after they practice, they came to the restaurant. |01:30:05| BRODY So when was this... Back? |01:30:08| GEORGE KAO Back to in seventies. But we still some Cowboys come. |01:30:12| APRIL KAO Cowboys. Yeah the old... |01:30:14| GEORGE KAO We got the, um, Oscar winning director! |01:30:20| APRIL KAO Ang Lee. |01:30:23| BRODY Yeah. |01:30:24| APRIL KAO Ang Lee came to the restaurant. |01:30:26| GEORGE KAO At the restaurant |01:30:27| APRIL KAO John Travolta |01:30:27| GEORGE KAO John Travolta, come to the restaurant. Kathy Bates, come to the restaurant. Who else? From town, we have so many. Can&#039 ; t remember. |Claps| Jerry Jones come too. |Laughs| |01:30:41| BRODY That must be fun to talk to all these people in addition to your regular, your normal customers. |01:30:49| GEORGE KAO Oh...Don Henley of The Eagles. |01:30:51| BRODY Don Henley. Yeah, yeah. |01:30:52| GEORGE KAO Don Henley lives here in the neighborhood. But, Don Henley is very private. Very, very strict. He walks in first, gives you the sign. |Makes motion of zipping his lips| |01:31:07| BRODY That crosses...Zip your lip. |01:31:11| GEORGE KAO Then bring his family to a certain table. Not facing to anyone. He doesn&#039 ; t want people to know. Everybody has a little bit their different style. Yeah, some is very friendly. Most friendly, of course, is GW Bush. That&#039 ; s a politician. Yes, of course. Reason, you just like, you know that. The nicest person. I mean, I guess it&#039 ; s a nice surprise, but of course we know. He, he&#039 ; s a career politician, right? He got a lot of staff following him. The day they come, show up. He walked in...called my name. So, &quot ; Hey, George!&quot ; OK? |01:32:05| BRODY You have the same name. |01:32:05| GEORGE KAO Hats off, after all, they did some homework. They know each one. |01:32:11| BRODY That&#039 ; s impressive. |01:32:12| APRIL KAO We try to respect their privacy. So we don&#039 ; t we don&#039 ; t go to them and ask for autographs or taking a pictures. We said we have pictures with President Bush. |01:32:27| GEORGE KAO Yeah. That President Bush was there, once he finished the dinner, the whole restaurant, standing ovation. |01:32:36| BRODY Oh, really? |01:32:37| APRIL KAO Yeah. Everybody was paused. Yeah. |01:32:39| BRODY When was this? Was this back when he was president or since he finished... |01:32:43| GEORGE KAO Way after presidency. Then all the families start to line up and take a picture with him. |01:32:50| BRODY Oh yeah. Right there in your restaurant. |01:32:54| GEORGE KAO Yeah. The Secret Service people just like, &quot ; OK. The President loves to take a picture with them, but just one by one. |01:33:02| BRODY One by one, I&#039 ; m glad you got one, too. |01:33:05| GEORGE KAO Oh, yes, absolutely. |01:33:09| APRIL KAO That&#039 ; s the only picture we have with celebrity. |01:33:13| BRODY Well, that I mean, this respecting the privacy, what you were just saying of celebrities, that just goes back to what you were saying about hospitality, you know, and, you know, making people feel comfortable and feel at home. |01:33:26| GEORGE KAO And also, I kind of see it as why- it&#039 ; s the neighborhood. They have to common understanding. So they respect all of those celebrities&#039 ; privacy, you know. I think this also contributes. |01:33:47| BRODY This is the sort of the vibe in the neighborhood. |01:33:49| GEORGE KAO Yeah. |01:33:51| BRODY So we talked a little bit earlier about, you know, the way that the restaurant has been renovated and decorated. Tell me about the art that makes up the restaurant, that&#039 ; s decorating the restaurant, both the woodwork and the photographs. |01:34:07| APRIL KAO The woodwork is from the original, steakhouse. It was decorated like an Indian. You know, the woodwork was from India. So we kind of refinished it and to make it look a little more modernized and then we refinished the tabletop. It has the copper imprint of postmodern design on it. It&#039 ; s really priceless. And all the chairs are really comfortable. And then I used to have a flower arrangement, putting on it on the wall. And then later we put photographs, black and white photographs, and people seem to like them. |01:35:05| BRODY So who took those photographs? |01:35:09| GEORGE KAO Of course! It&#039 ; s her! |Laughs|. |01:35:09| APRIL KAO Oh, it&#039 ; s my work. I am. |01:35:12| BRODY So are they photos of... |01:35:16| APRIL KAO Family. |01:35:17| BRODY Family and travel? |01:35:19| APRIL KAO I have some family photos there, and then I have some travel when I went to Tibet and Mongolia and all over places. And I don&#039 ; t have money to collect other people&#039 ; s art. So I guess the cheapest way to decorate is it&#039 ; s use what I have. |01:35:42| BRODY Use your own art. You&#039 ; re an accomplished photographer, so that&#039 ; s a good use of your talents. |01:35:50| APRIL KAO And I used to exhibit friends of mine, colleagues and their work, but it&#039 ; s been so busy I haven&#039 ; t been keeping up with it. |01:36:03| BRODY Yeah, that&#039 ; s another thing. A lot of the restaurants and grocery stores that were representing sort of Asian cultures and Asian foods have turned out to also be, you know, hubs for people to gather, you know, cultural information or, you know, in your case, art and so forth. Could you tell me a little bit about where you see your own restaurant&#039 ; s role in sort of spreading the culture and the education about aspects of Chinese culture? |01:36:42| APRIL KAO I think I haven&#039 ; t done enough for that. |01:36:45| BRODY What would you like to do? |01:36:47| APRIL KAO I would... |01:36:50| GEORGE KAO We start with food. That, every culture, the food is most direct. People can connect. Human nature...People love to eat, so we show the culture. Introduce a culture basically through the food. |01:37:10| APRIL KAO And through photographs and people would love to talk about and ask, &quot ; Hey, where is this and where did you go?&quot ; And, you know, that sort of connections kind of help explain. |01:37:24| BRODY Absolutely. You&#039 ; re right. You know, your philosophy of food, you know, bringing people together and you&#039 ; re... |01:37:31| GEORGE KAO Always, almost always the culture, your introduction- food. To connect. Then it starts to touch the other area. |01:37:49| BRODY What lessons or reflections do you have from your experience over all these years running a restaurant here in Dallas? What are the- your takeaways or what words would you use to describe your experience when you look back on it? |01:38:13| GEORGE KAO Very enjoyable to me. |Laughs| Yeah, it&#039 ; s a very demanding, hard work, but it can connection with neighborhood, with people. I think that is most rewarding aspect of this business. You make people happy. Right? To people come to your place to celebrate anniversary, graduation, birthday, whatever occasion. It just feels...yes. |01:38:46| APRIL KAO It is very rewarding. You know, through people&#039 ; s satisfaction of their experience in our restaurant and also very difficult, very hard business. But, you know, those hard work, compared with the reward. It&#039 ; s really... |01:39:22| GEORGE KAO No business is easy business. A restaurant is very challenging business. That&#039 ; s for sure. |01:39:29| BRODY So what are the most challenging parts about being a restaurant owner? |01:39:35| GEORGE KAO Oh, I think, for example, this year, this year, particularly, post-pandemic, this year most times it&#039 ; s the labor. Hiring. Normally, it&#039 ; s about running your business, it&#039 ; s about inventory. Cost cutting. You have to basically, it&#039 ; s managing your financial things, but this year&#039 ; s additional. |01:40:06| BRODY Sure. How about the issue of waste, you know, is it you know, that kind of jumping off of what you said about, you know, cost cutting and trying to be efficient, how, in in your line of work and, you know, and cooking Chinese food in particular, are there tricks that you&#039 ; ve had to sort of be able to manage and be more efficient and reduce waste of, you know, of ingredients and so on? |01:40:35| GEORGE KAO You know the point is you have to train your people right. So cut out the waste. So that&#039 ; s...They have to develop a certain kind of skill- your employee. And how process, how they prep. For example, even like to save the energy, they have to develop certain common good habits. So that&#039 ; s not in one day. You have to train very diligently. |01:41:06| BRODY What are some examples of what you&#039 ; re talking about? |01:41:10| GEORGE KAO Yeah, for example, you call cost-cutting, right? For example, like, you prep...You cut vegetable, you cut chicken, and some can be very absent-minded, they will waste a lot of stuff. So some can be, you have a good training. They will save you a lot of, save you a lot of money. |01:41:33| BRODY Right. |01:41:33| APRIL KAO For instance, we sell a lot of duck, so when the prep take off the meat that... |01:41:47| GEORGE KAO De-bone. |01:41:48| APRIL KAO To serve and there&#039 ; s still a lot of meat on the bone, and our chef will develop a dish, so he will take off all the leftover meat that he can use and to use it on another dish. |01:42:05| BRODY What is the other dish |01:42:06| APRIL KAO That that is stir fry duck. |01:42:08| BRODY With the smaller pieces. |01:42:09| APRIL KAO Yeah, with the smaller pieces. That was leek actually that that was, that is very, very popular. |01:42:16| BRODY Still on the menu? |01:42:17| APRIL KAO So it is on the menu. So that that&#039 ; s a way to not waste. |01:42:24| BRODY A great example. |01:42:28| BRODY So you have two daughters and did they grow up in the restaurant? |01:42:32| APRIL KAO Yes. |01:42:32| BRODY Yeah. Tell me about what it was like having young children and running a very popular restaurant. |01:42:39| APRIL KAO They, when they are growing up, the restaurant wasn&#039 ; t as popular, but they would come to the restaurant from time to time. And the younger one actually loved to cook when she was little, probably four or five years old. She would try to make pancakes, cherry juice, even she would add cherry juice in the pancake, and make cherry pancakes and, you know, with flours over her face and say, &quot ; Mom, try this.&quot ; |01:43:14| BRODY That&#039 ; s really cute. At the restaurant kitchen? |01:43:14| APRIL KAO At the restaurant kitchen. |01:43:17| BRODY How were they? How were the cherry pancakes? |01:43:20| APRIL KAO They were good. And she- actually really friendly. She would go to tables and say hi to the customers. And we have one lady in particular. She had her granddaughters with her and she would take my daughters with her granddaughter to have ice cream. |01:43:50| BRODY Oh. |01:43:50| APRIL KAO So cute. |01:43:51| BRODY That is very cute. Well, it just reflects that neighborhood feel that you all cultivated in the hospitality and the family, the family aspect of that. Do you feel like, you know, that you would do it all over again? |01:44:13| APRIL KAO With this year, make me think, &quot ; OK, probably I won&#039 ; t be doing it all again,&quot ; because the labor issue, it&#039 ; s really hard to find people willing to work in the restaurant, especially in the kitchen. Not regardless how high the costs are going to be. But before that, it it&#039 ; s really...I love to see people eat. I love to see people enjoying their food. I would do it again last year. But this year it&#039 ; s just too hard. |01:44:51| BRODY Right. It has been very challenging. |01:44:53| APRIL KAO It&#039 ; s very challenging. Never, never this... For the 40 some years in the restaurant business. This is the hardest year. Last year was... |01:45:06| GEORGE KAO And all the people we know from the restaurant business, everybody say that. |01:45:08| BRODY Right. Yeah. Well, going forward. What, what lessons have you learned from this year? And, you know, and from, your whole experience prior that you think that that would be helpful for people in the future who are listening to this and trying to understand how you survived and how you connected with people here in the you know, in the middle of north Texas. |01:45:41| GEORGE KAO Oh, I think basically just try to try to adapt the situation, home environment. Whatever come to you, you try to, try to find a way, you know, it&#039 ; s a still on the process, still on the middle of the come out, we said, I don&#039 ; t know, you said the crisis or what. It&#039 ; s just lots of people that everybody is still trying to figure out how to manage the situation. |01:46:18| APRIL KAO Like we have to simplify the menu. We, we used to have three guys working at the deep fryer. Now we only have two. So I have to simplify the menu so they won&#039 ; t be too crazy, too busy. And some of the menu items, we have to take it off, you know, more complicated one to simplify it for the... |01:46:48| BRODY It&#039 ; s been hard. |01:46:49| GEORGE KAO And some, like Chinese restaurant, some Chinese in Plano. Right now, they close half day. They don&#039 ; t have enough labor. So they have to only sacrifice for lunch time. Concentrate on the dinner time. |01:47:10| BRODY You have to work with what you have. |01:47:13| GEORGE KAO Yeah. Absolutely. |01:47:15| BRODY So it sounds like your demand is high and the you know, and then you&#039 ; re just challenged by meeting the demand here under these circumstances. |01:47:27| GEORGE KAO For this, you have to try to adapt to the situation. |01:47:30| BRODY Yeah, I just asked April this as well. But George, if you could do it all over again, would you do it again? |01:47:37| GEORGE KAO Hmm? |01:47:38| BRODY Would you would you do, do this again? If you were doing your life over again, would you choose to go into the restaurant business? |01:47:45| GEORGE KAO Oh, absolutely. Yes. |01:47:50| BRODY It&#039 ; s been really rewarding for you it sounds like. |01:47:52| GEORGE KAO Yeah, and also... I love people. That&#039 ; s basic, right? When I come to the United States, I very honestly, I think we both never think we will do the restaurant and the restaurant was going to be our what we do for a lifetime. We all try to pursue it on art. So, I want to be a movie director. She want to be a photographer and a painter. And of course, she&#039 ; s here, already achieved a lot. But I&#039 ; m coming out first couple of years, I didn&#039 ; t adapt very well because I&#039 ; m still kind like |claps| &quot ; No. This is...I&#039 ; m not ...I&#039 ; m not willing to do this for the rest of my life.&quot ; Then starting to develop like, &quot ; Well, actually. It&#039 ; s a fun business. It suits my personality.&quot ; |01:49:07| BRODY So at first, when you were working in the restaurant, it was just a, you know, in your mind, a temporary thing? |01:49:16| GEORGE KAO I kind of say it&#039 ; s a temporary thing. I want to go to school. I want to continue. You know, I want to be able to learn something to be a director, at that age. |01:49:32| BRODY What do you think you&#039 ; ve learned from your customers and from your staff and from, you know, from feeding people all these years? |01:49:44| GEORGE KAO OK, it&#039 ; s funny. Can you say it again? |01:49:47| BRODY What do you think you&#039 ; ve learned from your experience, from your customers, from your staff and from from feeding people over all these years? |01:49:56| GEORGE KAO What I learned from that, you know actually, I learn a lot from just for the for the people-side, the personality-side that. You know, I&#039 ; m always trying to connect with people, so it just...I always think that everybody have something to inspire. It&#039 ; s just like that. So I always try to pick up even some small stuff from different person, or customer, or employee or, something to enrich my life, use my knowledge to enrich my present. Yeah, it&#039 ; s just me. |01:50:51| BRODY How about you, April? |01:50:53| APRIL KAO I always tell our server, &quot ; Restaurant business. It&#039 ; s maybe, it&#039 ; s your stepping stone, but it&#039 ; s the best place you can learn from people how...How you treat people and how people treat you. It&#039 ; s- it can teach you a lot. A lot of skill and. |01:51:18| GEORGE KAO Humanity. |01:51:19| APRIL KAO Humanity. That&#039 ; s true. That&#039 ; s how I told them, you know, be patient and learn. Be observant. You know, you learn a lot from this business from day to day, you know, daily interact with people. |01:51:39| BRODY That sounds like you both have a wealth of experiences with interacting with all different kinds of people have and I&#039 ; m sure running a restaurant, you have some wild stories or interesting stories too. Can you think of the, I guess, other than the tornado and the pandemic, what are the most or that we were willing to share wildest restaurant story that you have experienced? |01:52:13| GEORGE KAO Something I really...It&#039 ; s a lot of small stuff, I just, you know... |01:52:21| BRODY Most memorable, maybe? |01:52:25| GEORGE KAO Most memorable is tornado. |Laughs| Pandemic! |01:52:32| APRIL KAO Well, we have one family they lived in...They live in Oklahoma. So from time to time, they will fly in in their.. |01:52:44| GEORGE KAO Private jet. |01:52:45| APRIL KAO Private jet to come and dine in our restaurant. Not so often after pandemic, but before that theywill come sometimes, 10, 13 people, and they will order like 17 or 20, you know, orders of soup dumpling. They love soup dumplings. And then after the dinner, they would take another 10 or 13 soup dumpling to go home. |01:53:18| BRODY Back home to Oklahoma. |01:53:19| APRIL KAO Oh, yes. And they tip very, very well. |01:53:23| GEORGE KAO Very, super generous. |01:53:26| BRODY They sound like. They love the restaurant. |01:53:29| APRIL KAO Oh, so that&#039 ; s one, you know, really, |01:53:32| BRODY That is very memorable. Thank you for sharing that. One thing I forgot to ask you earlier, you know, there have been so many restaurants that, you know, have developed after you guys were already established at Royal China. Have you had much of a mentoring type relationship with other Chinese restaurant owners that came after you? Have you do you have you know, did you show them the ropes or, you know, help out with different restaurants that were? |01:54:04| GEORGE KAO She helped out with several restaurants.... |01:54:10| APRIL KAO There are there are restaurants in. |George Kao excuses himself for an appointment| You got to go OK |to George Kao|. |01:54:17| GEORGE KAO My apologies. |01:54:18| APRIL KAO OK, so I thought, OK, we used to go one restaurant. We used...We used to go to one restaurant in Richardson because my mother in law lived in Richardson at the time and...and almost every week we would eat lunch with her. And that restaurant, they used to only take cash. So every time we go, and we&#039 ; ll talk to the owners and George will share with them and oh, he would tell them, &quot ; Maybe you should start taking credit cards.&quot ; So, so they did. And that kind of helped them bring in a lot of non-Asian customers. And we see the business grow. And every time we go and we talk and there&#039 ; s something, you know, more suggestion. |01:55:30| BRODY Because you had developed so much experience over time. With the credit cards, had had you taken credit cards at Royal China that the whole time. |01:55:39| APRIL KAO The whole time, yes. |01:55:40| BRODY Were there other things like that that were small things that you adapted that really helped business like. I know... |01:55:49| APRIL KAO Our business. |01:55:49| BRODY Yeah. Helped yours. |01:55:51| APRIL KAO Last year we did online order... |01:55:57| BRODY First time? |01:55:58| APRIL KAO First time with a company and it really took off really, really helped, helped the takeout business that was like crazy booming. |01:56:11| BRODY Yeah. And did it make it easier for you in the restaurant because someone didn&#039 ; t have to answer that phone call? |01:56:17| APRIL KAO Yes. That that took over. I mean, with all the takeout business, there was like 90 almost, no, 70 percent of the online order. And then we still have 30 percent of call in last year. We&#039 ; re still with that company. |01:56:35| BRODY Well, that&#039 ; s good that it was a... |01:56:36| APRIL KAO I would tell other restaurants, we have a lot of customers that that&#039 ; s in the restaurant business. And particularly, there&#039 ; s one in Trinity Grove that we love...the Mexican restaurant. I told them, &quot ; You need to take Chow Now! You need to take that!&quot ; |01:56:56| BRODY Yeah, that&#039 ; s I mean, you learn as you&#039 ; re doing it. |01:56:58| APRIL KAO And, then, you know, I&#039 ; m excited. You know, it works for us. So I would tell them... |01:57:04| BRODY Yeah. |01:57:05| APRIL KAO &quot ; Do that!&quot ; Help them too. So they will come back and say, &quot ; Hey, that was the best thing!&quot ; |01:57:10| BRODY Yeah, that&#039 ; s true. You have customers who are also in the restaurant business, though probably not necessarily your competition, but. |01:57:16| APRIL KAO We share. |01:57:17| BRODY You share. Yeah. So that&#039 ; s a more collaborative approach to to being in business. Well, I wanted to ask you if there is anything that I didn&#039 ; t ask you that or a topic that, you know, that that comes to mind that would be valuable to add to this recording. |01:57:41| APRIL KAO We probably covered everything. |01:57:44| BRODY OK, well, thank you so much both to you and George for sitting for this interview. And I&#039 ; m really happy to share your story. |01:57:54| APRIL KAO Well, thank you so much for doing this project. And, you know, later, people can go and do research and know there were once Royal China or there&#039 ; s a history of Royal China. |01:58:08| BRODY Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it. All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. audio Interviews may be reproduced with permission from the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. 0


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“Interview with George and April Kao, September 28, 2021,” Digging In Dallas, accessed July 12, 2024,