Priscilla Yng, a Taiwanese immigrant, has pushed through the language barrier and illiteracy to open and maintain her restaurant, Chinese Star, since 1990. In her 26 years on Calhoun Road, Yng has experienced the struggles that come with running a restaurant, like working to win regular customers and being short staffed.
Now, she faces the ultimate low: shuttering the operation.
“I’ve been working here for 26 years,” Yng said. “Right now, I’m 62-years-old (and) I have to go looking for a job.”
The restaurant will close in December at the end of Yng’s lease agreement. News of Chinese Star’s closing has left many people, including Yng, with questions.
“A lot of students complained that, you know, they need their food,” Yng said. “So many people like (the restaurant). Right now, I have people asking me almost every day, ‘Why?’ I say, ‘I don’t know why.’”
Chinese Star is the University’s only family-owned restaurant. Over the last two decades, it has grown for some dedicated students into a staple of UH cuisine and history. But in pursuit of new possibilities, the University has chosen to sever long-standing ties. University administrators see Chinese Star’s closing as an opportunity to improve the current food service program and make use of student feedback.
“The University has decided to explore other options for that location that more closely align with our food service model and better meet the expectations of our ever-expanding and diverse customer base,” said Rosario Ashley, the auxiliary services manager. “Input from the campus community is very important for improving the overall food service program, which includes understanding what kinds of food choices are desired.”
Last month, the Student Government Association opened a survey asking for student input in what they want to replace the restaurant. Aramark, the University’s contracted food provider, will determine the next restaurant in the building, which is on
“I think it’s an opportunity to change the offerings that we have on campus,” said SGA President Shane Smith. “Students talk a lot about some of the things that we’re missing with either vegetarian or halal options. This is an opportunity for the University to add something to its food locations that will serve more students.”
The University will renovate and modernize the existing space in the spring, and a new restaurant will open by Fall 2017.
Chinese Star’s closing may be a loss for Yng, but many customers are disappointed as well. Students have cried out against closing the restaurant over social media and around campus. Some have even suggested drafting a petition to the University to allow Chinese Star to stay. Yng said this has made her feel powerless.
“I like the food, and I like the staff a lot,” said music sophomore Luis Gutiérrez Fonseca, who sat eating his food at a circular table on a Wednesday in October. “I’m not sure whose choice closing the restaurant is, but I’m really disappointed about that.”
Over the years, Noel Baga, a UH alumnus and Law Center research assistant, has become a Chinese Star aficionado. Like many of the dedicated regular customers at the restaurant, he has taken the news especially hard.
“I eat here almost every day,” Baga said. “Since March, I’ve been eating here a minimum of three times per week. It’s just really good. The food is good. They have a lot of options. They have good drinks. It’s affordable. They have big servings and free fortune cookies. Where [else] do you get that?”
Sitting alone near the window, Baga knew that the days were counting down before he could no longer eat at his favorite on-campus restaurant. For Baga and the community of Chinese Star lovers, the loss of this campus staple has placed a cloud over their heads.
“It’s a huge, huge loss,” Baga said. “It’s sad. I’m sad, you know. I want this to stay.”