John Ko took over the China Dynasty restaurant 15 years ago from his in-laws, who started it 25 years ago in the Shops on Lane Avenue. Its location has been a challenge since renovations turned the indoor mall into an open-air center.
China Dynasty in the Shops on Lane Avenue in Upper Arlington is marking 25 years in business — years that have been fruitful, but not always smooth or easy.
"We have seen children grow up, get married and bring their children here, so it has been fun to watch," said owner John Ko.
He began working part time at China Dynasty in 1988, shortly after it opened, while attending Ohio State University. What started as a temporary job has turned into a vocation. He married the owners' daughter, and 15 years ago, bought the restaurant from his in-laws. Relatives own the China Dynasty at 1930 E. Dublin-Granville Rd.
Twenty-five years is a landmark anniversary for any restaurant, and like other restaurants that have reached that mark, China Dynasty has faced significant hurdles.
In addition to the Great Recession, which spurred diners to close their wallets and eat at home, the restaurant and its staff have weathered significant changes in the shopping center that includes the restaurant, and years of road and hotel construction along Lane Avenue.
"We're still in the same physical location and have never moved," Ko said. "It was great in the late '80s. We were in an indoor mall, and it was a popular mall."
Patrons of the Shops on Lane Avenue accounted for about 80 percent of China Dynasty's business when it was an indoor mall. Then Easton Town Center, with its outdoor setting, changed the idea of a successful mall, and the Shops eventually became an open-air mall.
"We didn't move, but our location in the new design was kind of stuck in the back," Ko said. " Even now, it's a problem.
"People look up our address, but they still can't find us, even if they have printed out directions or a map. They just can't see us. We're lucky we have a loyal clientele, because that has kept us alive."
Despite that setback, Ko added 2,000 square feet in 2002, including a banquet and private-party room. The dining room was spruced up and new kitchen equipment was installed.
But the food — the true focus at China Dynasty — remains very much the same.
"My wife and I are very traditional," Ko said, and consistency is a high priority, so much so that his mother-in-law is still head chef and often in the kitchen cooking the food, as she was before he took the reins.
The challenges aren't over for China Dynasty. Hotel construction along Lane Avenue is the latest impediment between potential customers and the restaurant.
"We're past the worst part, but some customers refused to come here because the roadwork was so frustrating, or they came in and immediately started yelling about the construction."
The key to generating repeat business, Ko said, is to maintain a traditional atmosphere and consistently high-quality food.
"Nowadays, it seems like everyone is either going Asian fusion or buffet, but we keep it traditional. You order food, we make it fresh."
Another secret to success, Ko said, is maintaining a good staff.
"We keep employees happy, and most, including the kitchen staff, have been here 10 years or more," he said. "We try not to have a lot of turnover, to keep quality consistent."
"Our goal is to continue serving the best Chinese food in the city, for another 25 years."
courtesy of Columbus Dispatch