1988 was a memorable year. My sister Sarah was born. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series. Mr. Ning’s opened.
I was 7 years old when I had my first experience at Mr. Ning’s Chinese Garden. My dad had been working with Bob Weeks – a partner in the restaurant – for years as his travel agent and had been following closely the developments of the newest restaurant on Catalina Island. Our family had the opportunity to meet Jan & Leonard Ning and their children before the restaurant opened & we were there opening night June 9, 1988.
You know how you have a family restaurant? It’s the place you go to after school concerts, for birthday celebrations, when you want something consistent and delicious. That is how our family views Avalon’s only authentic Chinese Restaurant. Have family visiting from out of town? Let’s go to Ning’s. Not feeling very good? Time for soup from Ning’s. Want to go out for a birthday dinner? Ning’s sounds good. (How do they get those oranges to taste so good?)
To hear after 29 years, they are closing their doors for good – our hearts are breaking. I guess that’s the heartbreak of tying a restaurant in so closely with memorable life events. Nothing lasts forever, especially small businesses. Knowing that truth doesn’t make this any easier, though. The sadness multiplies as we realize this will be our last season to share Mr. Ning’s with our touring foodies.
When we first had Mr. Ning’s as a tour vendor on the Avalon Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour, they served up this beautiful plated taste of their green beans (not too spicy) and did tea service for everyone at the table. Because of the water shortage, the tea service was replaced with bottled water when requested. Even with the change, the local eatery is one of the top spots guests report returning to after the tour ends.
The biggest hole this news puts in my heart is the loss of seeing Jan & Leonard, Jan’s sisters and their employees in the community every day. I know some of them will stay and will find work elsewhere on the island, but their whole team has become family. They know our voices. They know when we’re feeling sick and when we’re celebrating. They know our order (beef with broccoli, Dave’s shrimp, paper-wrapped chicken, teriyaki beef skewers, chicken fried rice and the occasional combination noodle soup – please and thank you). They were there when Sarah learned to eat cheerios (and thankfully didn’t mind the mess she made learning how to eat them). They kept us updated on their family and we kept them updated on ours. Jan and Leonard always asked after my pop when he got sick. Jan, especially, would ask after I’d been overtown to visit him. They were, as always, so kind and caring, especially after he passed. When my middle sister Jennifer got engaged we took a trip up north to meet Jordan’s family. We tried his family’s local Chinese restaurant. Very good – but not Ning’s. They now welcome the third generation of our family – Kensley, Kelton, Wren & a niece or nephew to be named soon – on a regular basis.
This story of family isn’t just my story with the restaurant or only my family’s interaction with the Ning’s crew. This is the story for hundreds of families in Avalon and hundreds of visitors who return to the island every year. This change impacts all of us. So I propose we send them off with the same level of love they’ve given us these three decades. Let them know how you feel whether it’s through a hug or an extra kind word or special tip or gift. Take the time to dine in. Spend some time with them. Each of them has been such an integral part of our hometown, let’s remember to give them a whole lot of love before they go.
We love you Jan, Leonard, Jenny, Joanne, George, and all of you who work or have worked at Mr. Ning’s Chinese Garden. We are excited for your retirement, but will miss you more than you know. We will be in to dine soon.
Mr. Ning’s Chinese Garden will close in the fall of 2017. The Atwater Hotel, owned & operated by the Santa Catalina Island Company, will go under a major renovation beginning in winter of 2017.