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House of Chow under new ownership

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 12.05.15 PMFor James Lowe, restaurants have always been a family business. His mother owned Peking Restaurant when it was located at Ninth and Cherry streets downtown. A few miles down Broadway, his aunt, Amy Chow, owned House of Chow. Lowe logged time in both restaurants and worked part-time in the kitchen when he was in college.

Lowe was known as a reliable chef, but he didn’t intend on making cooking a career. He studied architecture at the University of Missouri and worked as a designer in Kansas City for 16 years after his graduation. Eventually, Columbia pulled him back.

“Last year, I just felt like I wanted a change,” Lowe says.

His timing was perfect. Chow’s nephew Edward Lin and his wife, Ming, had purchased House of Chow in 2005 but were looking to exit the restaurant business. Lowe, also a nephew of Chow’s, took ownership in March.

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Old and new

Keeping with family tradition, Lowe’s House of Chow doesn’t look drastically different from how it did before. Lowe has added and removed some menu items but estimates that 95 to 98 percent of the original menu’s 100-plus items still remain.

“With the menu, we can’t make a drastic change,” Lowe says. “This restaurant has been here so long, and people are used to what we offer here.”

In the kitchen, Lowe has turned his attention to adding appetizers. So far gua bao, a Taiwanese dish that Lowe describes as a pork belly slider, has been a crowd favorite. Lowe also lowered some lunch special prices but kept most entrée pricing hovering around $10.

House of Chow regulars might also notice some subtle upgrades to the restaurant’s interior design. Drawing from his architectural background, Lowe sought to bring more light into the restaurant. He spent about $3,000 on new light fixtures, added sheer curtains to the front windows and purchased new lounge furniture for the restaurant’s front.

“We’ve just tried to do little cosmetic changes,” Lowe says. “I spent money on what people see the most.”

Lowe has also worked to revive House of Chow’s Web presence. He designed a new website for the restaurant and also came up with a new logo for the website, menus and promotional materials. The new logo also bares a new tagline: Traditional Chinese dining with a modern twist.

That twist, Lowe says, is a combination of affordable, great-tasting food made with fresh ingredients. He hopes to soon offer monthly or weekly specials that feature seasonal, locally sourced items.

“We try to take care of different kinds of customers,” Lowe says. “We’re more traditional, but once in a while we do a modern twist on certain dishes.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 12.05.06 PMAll in the family

House of Chow regulars still often inquire about Chow. Although she hasn’t owned the restaurant in nearly a decade, she’s still a restaurant fixture; she and her siblings from Taiwan helped Lowe transition during his first few weeks of ownership, and she’ll stop in on weekends to see her friends.

“My aunt has a lot of loyal customers,” Lowe says. “I would say that eight out of 10 customers when they come in would say, ‘Where’s Amy?’”

In his first few months as a restaurant owner, Lowe says he aims to keep his goals realistic. He hopes to increase House of Chow’s presence in the community through catering and promotions. He also wants to work on increasing sales and his overall customer base. Although the restaurant’s finances are stable, sales are about 40 percent lower than their peak in 2002 and 2003.

Lowe says he thinks his family ties will be instrumental to the restaurant’s continuing success.

“[Customers] don’t want some stranger from out of town that just came here, bought a restaurant and ruined the restaurant,” Lowe says. “The environment [at the restaurant] and that it’s family owned means a lot to the customers because they still see the familiar faces.”

 

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