Happy dining at Happy Dragon

By Kathryn Reyes

News-Times intern

The inclination to eat is universal. So too is Chinese food. And so, even when you are unable to understand a single Chinese word, as long as you are passionate about food and you love to eat, you are always welcome at Happy Dragon Buffet.

Jackie Liu, the restaurant’s manager, will be the first to greet you at the door when you decide to check out this new food place, located at Midway Boulevard, right next to the Dollar Tree Store. Either with a slight bow of his head or with a smile on his face, Liu will eagerly usher you in and make you feel like a guest in his own home. If you’re lucky, he will even pour tea for you. He said that the deed is an ancient Chinese tradition of courtesy and is usually regarded as a friendly gesture.

And since a traditional Chinese meal is all about communal sharing of food, that is what people essentially do when they eat at Happy Dragon Buffet, which boasts over 180 items on its menu. Oriental cuisine is well-represented of course, with various Chinese dishes like beef broccoli, sesame chicken, egg foo young, Chinese vegetable fried rice and many more. Of course, Chinese dim sum and Japanese sushi are also available. You can’t get more oriental than that. For the more conservative, Happy Dragon’s buffet menu also includes Continental cuisine with seafoods like snow crab legs, oysters, mussels, salmon and shrimps.

Their seafood selection is quite popular among those who have already tried out the place. Most of them agree that the seafood at Happy Dragon deserves a second, third or even a fourth serving. “The seafood selection is the best,” Christopher Caballero said.

Another customer, Ron Hoffman, said, “I like the variety, the seafood and the shrimp in particular was very good.”

With compliments like that, it is hard to believe that Happy Dragon Buffet actually had a slow start. The restaurant opened last month, three days before Christmas. Liu shared that it took a while before his business found solid footing. “When we opened the first day, there’s not much people,” he said. “Second day, there was not much people. Third day is not much people. But on the 27th, 28th, 29th, wow! A lot of people already. Everyday it went up, up, up!”

Many customers have become regular patrons and the restaurant is gaining popularity by word of mouth. This makes Liu really happy because it is proof that people liked dining at his place and are even excited to recommend it to their friends. Liu feels that his dream is fulfilled when people keep coming back.

Good food is not the only attraction at Liu’s restaurant. Its interiors also earned praise from first-time diners, including Darlene Hoffman, who said that she liked the white walls and the oak wood furniture, as it made the place look so clean.

Liu took part in designing the layout and the interiors of the room with the objective of setting the proper ambience for dining. He carefully thought of a way to arrange the dining furniture so that the buffet table is accessible from every corner of the room. He also made sure that there is ample room for walking to and from the serving area without having to move chairs or asking another dining customer to stand up and make way for another. With a floor space of 9,000 square feet and a seating capacity of 380 people, Happy Dragon has room for practically everybody. They can also host and cater for big parties like weddings, birthdays and even conferences.

Liu said that his ancestors engaged in the food business a long time ago while they were in China. When his family moved to Washington in 2000, Liu’s father put up a restaurant, Bamboo Garden, in Mount Vernon, which he helped manage. With the Chinese being innately good at doing business, and food being in Liu’s blood, it is almost second nature that his family engage in the food business. It has often been said that food, family and money are the cornerstones of Chinese culture. His establishing his own restaurant is an affirmation that being in the food business has become a family tradition for the Lius.

It is not easy to be in the food business, said Liu, especially with a buffet restaurant. But, from his years of experience in managing his father’s restaurant, Liu is doing a good job at handling his own here in Oak Harbor. In order to manage his business well, he took certain measures that not many restaurant owners usually do. “We set up two kitchen managers in the kitchen,” Liu said. “One is in charge of keeping the food coming at the buffet table and the other is in charge of cooking and training the kitchen staff.” He added, “I don’t know if other restaurants do that too, but I think it’s a good idea.” He wants the food that they serve to always be hot off the grill and he wants the serving trays always filled so that customers do not feel shortchanged when they dig in.

“I want people to feel relaxed at my restaurant,” Liu said. “And then later I want to make them happy by offering them good food.”

Indeed, happy is going to be as much a part of your dining experience at the restaurant as its name suggests.