Normand Wong’s Cho-Sen Island in Lawrence nears its 20th year in business as one of the only kosher Chinese restaurants in the Five Towns area.
“We have great consistency in our service and our quality of food,” he said.” I’m here every day. In the restaurant business, you have to be into it to succeed.”
When he bought the place, at 367 Central Ave., he already had a thriving restaurant called Cho-Sen Garden in Queens.
“That area of Forest Hills is a big Jewish neighborhood, and I decided to open the next one in the Five Towns, because I knew that it had a similar clientele,” said Wong, who lives in Queens. “About eight years ago we opened another one in Great Neck, another area that has many kosher people. We are very happy to have all three of them.”
Wong claims that juggling the three restaurants is not too difficult, thanks to the help of trusted managers, chefs and staff in each location. He also has a Jewish partner, a family friend of over 35 years, who has been with him since the opening of the first restaurant.
Filling the Chinese void
Wong claims that although there has been a dramatic increase in kosher Japanese restaurants to the area, his is still one of the only kosher Chinese places around.
“This neighborhood is getting more kosher and more religious, because a lot more Jewish people are moving in, so you see a lot of kosher sushi bars starting to open up — they’re all over the Five Towns,” he said. “But there’s really no kosher Chinese.”
Local resident Rabbi Yehoshua Marchuck concurs that kosher Chinese is scarce in the neighborhood, stating that “The only other kosher Chinese in the Five Towns is Wok Tov, which is really more of a take out place.”
Although Cho-Sen Island was already a kosher Chinese restaurant when Wong took over, he has placed his own stamp on the place over the years, which included adding a sushi bar five years into his run and including more traditional Chinese dishes to the menu.
Since the restaurant is kosher, several key ingredients that are common in Chinese cooking are absent from the menu, such as pork and shellfish. But according to Wong, those few items are not missed, and the menu offers very authentic Chinese fare. He says that the sesame chicken and steak kew are two house favorites.
“This place has really good food that happens to be kosher,” said Dr. Aaron Lantz, who has been a customer since Cho-Sen Island opened. “The food is delicious, superior to any other Chinese place.”
Wong’s winning personality
In addition to good food, connecting with the specific clientele and making customers feel special seems to be the restaurant’s strong suit. Wong and his staff are well known for warmly greeting diners by name, according to many customers.
“They always wish you good holidays in Jewish and Hebrew,” Lantz said. “Wong is gracious, charming, pleasant and helpful. The staff he has here is amazing. The host and hostess are extraordinary.”
Shalhevet Langsan of Far Rockaway said that the staff is very efficient and helpful.
“They are very accommodating,” she said. “If you have a problem with anything you’re not happy with, they’ll work with you.”
Marchuck said he was extremely pleased with the restaurant’s handling of several office functions he held at Cho-Sen.
“Ever since, the staff has not stopped raving about the place,” Marchuck said. “Normand’s personality and warmth was responsible for it. The only thing better than the food is his personality.”
As a businessman, Wong explained that customer satisfaction is his primary focus.
“Making our customers happy is the most important thing,” he said. “We always make them feel very welcome.”