Linda Lin and Jun Zhang had hoped to keep serving stir-fried green beans, General Tso’s chicken and baked mussels at King Buffet for another decade, but they are closing their Chinese buffet after losing their lease at the location on West 23rd Street.
University Storage, which occupies the bulk of the building in which their restaurant is located, at 1601 W. 23rd St., is expanding to fill the entire lot. That’s pushing out King Buffet and other tenants of the building.
Salvation Army of Douglas County began moving its downtown location to 1202 E. 23rd St. last year, and they have a new location for the store lined up at 1800 E. 23rd St.; Pizza Shuttle has applied for sign and remodeling permits at 711 W. 23rd St., the strip mall that was previously home to Sarpino’s Pizzeria.
Wednesday will be the last day for King Buffet. The restaurant has been a local family favorite because of its lo mein, crab rangoon, fresh fruit and desserts.
Lin and Zhang are crestfallen about closing their doors after 23 years. Although Pizza Shuttle and Salvation Army are moving to new spaces, Lin and Zhang see no way forward for King Buffet.
“The money is not good, and to put a huge amount of money into one restaurant is risky,” Lin said. “It’s too risky for one family.”
When the married couple opened King Buffet in 1999, three other families backed the investment, taking the risk together. Those families have since moved on to other endeavors, and Lin and Zhang do not want to take on the costs of moving the restaurant to a new location.
In addition, they said, interest in buffet dining has dropped while costs have gone up, Lin said. Decimated by the pandemic, the buffet industry nationally has dwindled.
“Nobody came for almost two years,” Lin said. “It was very difficult.”
Lin and Zhang are from China, and starting a restaurant was a common ambition in their culture when they first came to Lawrence, Lin said.
Now more people recognize the amount of work, dedication and money it takes to sustain a restaurant. And the public can be highly critical if they catch you on a bad day, Lin said.
Despite the drawbacks, Lin and Zhang found operating King Buffet for more than 20 years rewarding.
“Lawrence is a good community,” Lin said. “A business like us, we were very happy … to see people growing from generation to generation. I got a chance to see that.”
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Note: Two addresses in this post have been corrected.
Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.