When Pang Fei Chen learned his restaurant, Best China Chef, had 30 days to vacate the now defunct Promenade Shopping Center in Exeter Township, he described the short window as "cruelty."

Chen estimated it would take at least three months to set up a new restaurant and kitchen, not even including the time just to find and lease a new space — and that was to speak nothing of any curveballs the coronavirus pandemic might throw his way.

Yet, to Chen's astonishment, the entire process took only two months, and Best China Chef was able to reopen in November, right down the street in the Shelbourne Square shopping center.

"If you asked me to do it all over again, there is no way I could ever do it that fast," said Chen. "I don't know how I did it, especially in the middle of COVID. It's hard to get contractors, hard to get inspectors. It's hard to get everything together in that amount of time.

"Even some of my customers are like, 'Wow.' I closed up for a few days, then I'm open again."

And with the stress and anxiety of suddenly and unexpectedly being forced to relocate out of the way, it appears Chen's business may be better off now.

Why did Best China Chef have to move?

Best China Chef was one of only a handful of retailers still holding on at the Promenade, which saw consumer traffic decline sharply following the departure of its anchor store, Giant Food Stores.

Exeter Township purchased the shopping center in 2019 with plans to build a new community center on the land, then discovered in July it would not be able to renew an insurance policy for the property during construction.

Just like that, Best China Chef and five others, including Chen's own Stop Wash and Go carwash, were evicted.

For the township's part, it did what it could to expedite the move to Shelbourne Square, said Chen, as far as quickly approving any applications he needed to submit or scheduling all the necessary inspections.

Many longtime customers also expressed excitement for the change, Chen added.

As opposed to being located in a largely vacant, deteriorating strip, Best China Chef moved less than 2 miles down Route 422 to a shopping center that includes a number of retailers and major chains, counting Home Depot, Redner's Warehouse Markets, Dollar Tree and Planet Fitness among them.

New and improved

It also worked out for Chen in the sense that Best China Chef received a welcome refresh as well. The entire kitchen was updated as a result of the move.

Much of the equipment at the previous location was retrofitted for that kitchen and wasn't able to be moved.

But then after more than two decades at the Promenade, the opportunity to not merely renovate, but rebuild Best China Chef gives the finished restaurant the feeling of a fresh start.

Little else besides its appearance and location has changed though, said Chen. Best China Chef is still cranking out the same cuisine it's become known for over the last 21 years in business, with dine-in, pick-up and delivery options.

It didn't need to do anything different. All it needed was a new home.

comments powered by Disqus