The New China Palace was established in September 1973 by Chuang Nan Chou and served authentic Chinese, Mandarin-Peking Hunan, and Szechuan style food.
Over the years, it became well-known in the Oak Ridge and Knoxville area and to many customers from other countries who came to Oak Ridge to visit the government facilities of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Y-12 National Security Complex, the K-25 plant, and Oak Ridge Associated Universities. A large customer base developed, and the restaurant prospered.
In 2010, the City of Oak Ridge delivered a letter to the New China Palace saying their lease for the city building at the Oak Ridge Marina would not be renewed. Ideas for developing a facility for rowing and a “casual restaurant” were mentioned as the reason for this sudden change of heart by their landlord. This was announced in the newspapers and caused a huge negative reaction by their customers.
We drew up a petition for the Chou family to use in soliciting help from their customers in convincing the city that there were great numbers of people who did not agree with this decision. More than 3,200 people signed the petition, and this was presented to the City Council and city manager. After some time, the city extended their lease for another two years.
Early on in those two years, the owner became convinced that he would need to plan to move in the future to a new location. He also discussed transitioning ownership to a friend who had worked with him at the restaurant for a number of years, Cheng P. Ren.
Ren approached the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce and Parker Hardy, and his staff helped him to turn the petition signers’ data into a study of where his customer base was located and with more detailed analyses helped to identify various locations within the city that would centralize the new restaurant to better serve his client base. He now had a basis to relocate with reason, as opposed to a hurried step after the next letter from the city arrived.
And it did arrive. However, this time the approach by the city was very positive. The message was delivered by the city manager, Mark Watson, in person, and he assured Ren that the city did not want him to leave Oak Ridge, that the restaurant was indeed a valued business to the city, and offered to help find a new location.
About this time, Kathy Moore, former city mayor, came on the scene. Kathy approached local real estate developer Tony Cappiello and asked him to work with Ren to find the best location for his restaurant. Tony reacted very positively to that request.
After several months of searching, they settled on a location in the famous Jackson Square area, recently identified as the old Village Restaurant site. Ren worked with Cappiello for some months to reach a lease agreement on the final product, which involved extensive renovation and upgrade. The lease was signed in late February, and construction was completed to provide an opening date of Nov. 22.
The city was again very helpful with extensions to the old lease. There are many changes to the old Village building—a drive by take-out window, plus a separate room for special meetings and celebrations. The new interior is beautiful with much of the “old” Palace decorations and a newly designed ceiling using the tiles from the former location.
The second oldest restaurant in Oak Ridge will be back for another “35-plus years of great food,” Ren said.
Oh yes, the beautiful interior wall decorations of the old building continue to create the atmosphere as enjoyable to the eyes as the food is to the customers. A very happy ending to the story of the New China Palace.
Maybe one of those fortune cookies predicted “You will have a great change in your future.” Many thanks to the work of those involved who helped make this transition a success; it speaks very positively for our community.
Tom Row is an Oak Ridge resident and community leader.