Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: The MandalayRestaurant Insider
January 17, 2022
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
ANNE LEE speaks with The Mandalay manager CHRISTINA CHAN
Christina Chan never thought she would be operating a restaurant today (she likes to skydive!), but being raised in this industry, parents Larry and Linda started the first Eastern Garden Chinese restaurant back in 1992 on Waialae Avenue, and it was inevitable.
Fast-forward 30 years later, their popular The Mandalay restaurant moved from downtown to where her parents first started their restaurant journey. And, with Chinese New Year right around the corner, I was able to try some of the favorite dishes and the Xiao Long Bao for good luck in 2022.
AL: What was it like growing up in this restaurant environment?
CC: My parents had four Eastern Garden restaurants at one time, starting with the Kaimuki location. I had no idea how they did it. There were six of us kids doing kid things, and my mom would be dropping us off at school and then running around operating restaurants in Kaimuki, Kaneohe and Pearl City.
Growing up, I actually was more adventurous and liked to challenge myself.What I want for the future is to keep what my parents put into this restaurant, but also take some risks to be able to adapt with the challenges that we face in day-to-day operations.
AL: How did you get into restaurant operations?
CC:When my parents first opened The Mandalay in downtown Honolulu, I would be there often to help out because that is the “Chinese thing to do.” In all seriousness, from bussing tables, washing dishes to cashiering, I became more involved. When I was going to get my degree as a CPA, and I realized that wasn’t really what I wanted to do, and I liked the fast-paced environment of the restaurant.
Every day is different. Some days are more challenging, but our restaurant allows us to offer our customers new items,and we can help them create memorable experiences. We have our guests tell us about all of the special events that they have had over the years, and that makes it rewarding and keeps us going.
AL: With the pandemic, there was a shift in how The Mandalay operated the restaurant. What changes did you have to implement?
CC: Our downtown location had a lot of business clientele, as we were right on Alakea Street. With the pandemic, the majority of the customers were working from home.We were fortunate as Chinese takeout is more common than takeout from other restaurants, and people were gravitating toward more comfort foods in an affordable price range.
Coming back to Kaimuki, there is an increase in takeout demand. We have modified our kitchen to accommodate this more efficiently. Looking back at the past year, it made us pause and look at what was important. My parents are getting older and are still working hard, so we downsized and moved to this location and still provide really good Chinese cuisine. Our dining room is smaller but still accommodating. We have also shifted to offer only takeout on holidays so we can give our kitchen crew a break to be with their families.
AL: Tell me more about the takeout holiday platters.
CC: Our holiday platters have been successful. We created more family-style options. The Special Platter for 4 ($98) comes with four pieces each of shrimp dumpling, pork dumpling, potsticker, shrimp and chive dumpling, half-moon, spring roll, gau gee and gin dui, as well as char siu, green beans with pork, gon lo mein and honey walnut shrimp.We ask that you preorder in advance as there are limited quantities available.
The Xiao Long Bao ($9.95 for five pieces) is not brand new to the menu but a new addition to our dim sum menu, and dumplings are one of the foods to eat for good luck. This soup dumpling is filled with meat and broth and it’s delicious.
AL: There are some new Chinese New Year menus that were created for both takeout and dine-in. What are those items?
CC:We are usually closed on Tuesdays, and the exception will be Chinese New Year, which falls on Tuesday, Feb. 1, so we will be open. These are the special meals that we will be featuring to celebrate Chinese New Year and we will be offering jai starting Jan. 22.
The Chinese New Year Takeout Meal ($128; feeds four) is available Jan. 29-Feb. 1 after 5 p.m. It comes with pickled cucumbers, whole cold ginger chicken, braised oxtail with root vegetables, salt and pepper shrimp, jai, Chinese-style stick rice and red bean gin dui. Jai ($17.95, preorder) will also be available starting Jan. 22.
The Chinese New Year Feast Menu ($428; feeds 10) is available for dine-in or takeout Jan. 22-Feb. 1 and must be ordered at least two days in advance. It comes with char siu baby back ribs, scallop soup, whole Peking duck with buns, steamed oyster rolls, lobster steamed with mochi rice in lotus leaf, jai, baby boy choy with black mushrooms, braised chicken mein and red bean gin dui.
AL: Anything else you want to share?
CC: The restaurant industry is still being impacted by the aftermath of the pandemic. One of the challenges we face is getting accessibility to products and the rising costs of goods.
Staffing is also a huge challenge, many people have left the industry.We have to constantly change and adapt to what products are available and offer the best we can with what we have to our loyal customers.
We are thankful for the support of the community.