COLUMBIA — Celeste Chen gets excited when she tells this story.
Two years ago, she and her husband, John Jiang, decided to visit family in China. Both have culinary backgrounds and had been considering opening a restaurant in Columbia when they returned.
Chen managed the Great Wall Chinese restaurant from 2000 to 2006. Her husband had 20 years of experience as a chef in 10 Chinese restaurants in New York, Boston and Atlanta.
That same November, their friends, Helen and Ming Lu, who owned the Great Wall, were also in China visiting family.
They, too, wanted to open another restaurant after returning to the United States.
"We were both in China, and we started communicating by email," Chen said.
Helen Lu chimed in: "Ming knew they were looking to open something. He sent an email to see how things were going."
These initial conversations culminated in shared ownership of The Bamboo Terrace, which opened in June at Suite 101, 3101 W. Broadway, as a sit-down restaurant.
Great Wall offered a Chinese buffet, but the four owners of The Bamboo Terrace wanted a place where the food could be more closely monitored.
"Quality service and quality food is what we want to provide," Chen said.
Items on the menu include Americanized Chinese favorites, more traditional Chinese fare and Thai-influenced dishes. Items from the "Chef Specialties" section are very popular, Chen said.
This section includes dishes such as the Szechuan-style velvet beef in hot chili oil, sliced tea-smoked duck with pine nuts in red wine sauce and roast salmon served with a mixed sauce of coconut juice and red curry.
Prices range between $14 and $22 for specialty plates; rice and noodle dishes start at roughly $9. A lunch menu between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday, allows customers to save a few dollars on some dishes.
Initially, the owners scouted locations in Boston, Houston and the state of Mississippi before the two families decided on Columbia. The search took almost a year for Chen and Jiang.
She said the decision to open in Columbia was the right one all along: "Sometimes Chinese people like to say fate. If it does not happen, it is not the right time."
Helen and Ming Lu were living in New York when the two families decided on the joint venture. Helen Lu decided Columbia would be a good choice because of how "quiet this city is," especially compared to New York City.
"I really like Columbia," Helen Lu said. "The only reason we left in 2010 is that our lease had ended (at the Great Wall location)."
Her husband agreed: "We had lived in Columbia for over 10 years and had already fallen in love with it."
This attachment to Columbia prompted the Lu family to suggest Columbia to Chen and Jiang, who initially had reservations about opening a restaurant in the mid-Missouri city.
"John does not like the snow and was worried about the snow in Columbia," Chen said. "I had to convince him that it does not snow that much here."
The couples picked up the key to the West Broadway location on Valentine's Day 2012, and Jiang went to work creating the menu soon after.
The "Americanized," traditional Chinese and Thai style dishes on the menu are those both Jiang and Lu are familiar with.
"John received a high level chef certificate in China," and has many years of experience in the kitchen, Chen said.
Ming Lu has also worked in restaurants across the United States and, like Jiang, has nearly 20 years cooking experience.
The two families believe their restaurant will be best at exemplifying the true joys of Chinese cooking.
"To really enjoy Chinese food, there are a combination of five things that should be there: color, smell, taste, appearance and plating," Chen said.
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