When Cyndi Jiang, who came to the United States from Naqi, China, 25 years ago, decided to open a business, her choice of establishment was not an especially difficult one to make. She did not have a college degree, and her grasp of the English language was tenuous. But she and members of her family knew how to cook, so opening a restaurant seemed to be an obvious option. Seventeen years later, Lian Wang Chinese Restaurant still flourishes in North Pekin, buttressed largely by a bulwark of regular customers.
“The location is beautiful, and there are nice people here,” said Jiang. "This location isn’t like a big city, where people might stop in on a break from shopping. There are no department stores around. So many people who eat here make a special trip to do it. We have a lot of regular customers, and they have really supported us and taken care of us. They know me, and they trust me.”
While Holly Skaggs of Canton cannot be said to make special trips to North Pekin just for a meal at Lian Wang, she eats there when she is in Pekin having her car serviced or on other errands.
“I come at least once or twice a month,” said Skaggs. “I like the variety of authentic Chinese dishes they have. Their food is reasonably priced, the service is always fast, and the people who work here are always friendly. They’re a family business, and they treat customers like family and always ask how I’m doing when I come in.”
While there are no big-city shopping venues in North Pekin to bring in potential customers, Jiang added, there is no shortage of nearby restaurants to contend for mealtime traffic.
“There’s a lot of competition around here,” she said. “We have to have good food, or we wouldn’t have much business. Everything on the menu is homemade, and we serve big portions. If people like the food, they come back and support your restaurant. There are a lot of restaurants close to this one, I don’t do any advertising. I don’t need to.”
Popular menu items at Lian Wang Restaurant appear to be the chow mei fun dishes: rice noodles with celery, carrots, mushroom, cabbage and chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or vegetables. The restaurant’s menu also features a wide variety of Szechuan, Cantonese, Hunan and Mongolian dishes. Darla Smith of East Peoria has a decided preference for Lian Wang’s scallop and shrimp with garlic sauce.
“The food’s always good, the service is always quick and when you walk in, they always remember you and remember your order,” said Smith. “You can be gone a year, and they’ll remember you and they’ll remember what you like to eat. They don’t cook with MSG (monosodium glutamate), which I appreciate, because MSG gives me headaches.”
Jiang enjoys preparing and serving quality Chinese food and making her customers happy. But the greatest challenge she faces as a restauranteur is the occasional need to deal with difficult customers.
“Sometimes people complain or want their money back after they’ve eaten most of the food they ordered,” said Jiang. “We have to pay for the ingredients, and we have to support ourselves. So, I had to put out a ‘No Refunds’ sign.”
One of the greatest perquisites to owning a business, Jiang added, is the job security.
“People who work for someone else are never really sure they won’t get fired or laid off the next day,” she said. “But If you own a business, you know the job will be there as long as the business is there.”
Lian Wang Restaurant is located at 135 C Radio City Drive, North Pekin. Hours of operation are from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and Sunday from 4 to 9:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.