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Published: 3/28/2005

Golden Lily hangs on in 3rd generation

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
David Loo, who is the third generation to own and operate the Golden Lily on Superior Street, says he may be the last. David Loo, who is the third generation to own and operate the Golden Lily on Superior Street, says he may be the last.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

Arriving in Toledo from Canton, China in the 1930s, George Loo spoke little English and had no marketable job skills. His work as a teller in China's then-rudimentary banking system was unlikely to lead to employment, he recognized.

So, after hearing that a Chinese restaurant in Toledo's bustling downtown was up for sale, he decided to try something new.

Seventy years later, that restaurant, the Golden Lily, is Toledo's oldest Chinese restaurant, and continues to be operated by members of the Loo family.

"I am the third generation to run it," said 50-year-old David Loo, who is George Loo's grandson.

Times have changed dramatically since the Golden Lily opened in 1926 in a building on Madison Avenue at Jefferson Street.

Competitors have come and gone, including Kin Wa Low, the Cherry Street institution that showcased entertainers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Bobby Darin in the 1940s and '50s.

Other ethnic specialties including Mexican and Italian have eclipsed Chinese cuisine.

And Toledo's downtown has declined.

"The last few years, business has been steady, but low steady," said Mr. Loo, who can often be found in the kitchen behind the grill. "It's not as busy as it should be."

He worries about the appearance of additional restaurants downtown at a time when the area's employment continues to slip and conversion of old warehouses to residential lofts has yet to reach the pace necessary to fully revive Toledo's historic central business district.

Liquor sales aren't as strong as at some restaurants, Mr. Loo said, because Chinese restaurants overall don't do well in that category and because employers now discourage alcohol consumption during lunch breaks.

Still, the Golden Lily employs a dozen people and takes in about $650,000 in sales annually, he said.

The restaurant has a steady clientele, many of whom have been coming for years. For some, it was the site of first dates and other memorable events.

Donna Arp was 22 when she joined the staff as a waitress in 1959. Forty-six years later, she's still at it.

"I'll have people come in who are in their 30s, and they'll tell me, 'I remember you when I was a kid,' " Ms. Arp said.

Before fortune cookies arrived wrapped in cellophane, she used to enjoy surprising young children celebrating birthdays by slipping in $1 along with the prognostication.

The present location, 219 N. Superior St., is the restaurant's fourth. The Golden Lily was in its original spot until 1959 when it moved to a building on Jefferson across from the Commodore Perry building. Before settling in the present location in 1980, it was in a next-door building.

Before David Loo took over, the restaurant was run for many years by his uncle, Louie Low. David Loo operated the restaurant with his older brother, Kam Tim Loo, until he was killed in a traffic crash four years ago.

While business is slower than it once was, the owner says he has no plans to close.

But the third generation of the Loo family will likely be the last. David Loo's two children have told him they have no interest in running the Golden Lily. "There is too much time involved," Mr. Loo said with a chuckle.

An executive from the newest Asian-themed downtown restaurant marveled at the Golden Lily's longevity and the competition it still provides.

"Everyone who's selling food is a competitor for us," said Tommy Pipatjarasgit, president of Magic Wok.

He added that "it's pretty incredible" that a restaurant has remained open downtown as long as the Golden Lily.

Contact Gary Pakulski at: gpakulski@theblade.com or 419-724-6082.

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