Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The arrival of the new China Lee glatt kosher Chinese restaurant in Highland Park is, in large part, a story about a successful restaurant family, a unique window of opportunity, and an empty storefront.

Shalom Cohen has been the owner and operator of Highland Park’s Jerusalem Pizza restaurant for 30 years. The business has become a well-regarded and successful fixture in town, providing catering to all sorts of simchas and schools, attracting a brisk lunch crowd of Jews and non-Jews, and serving as a meeting place for friends and family.

In 2000 he met, dated and married Yardena Ben David, who was born in Italy and raised in Israel. They have three children, now ages 16, 15 and 9, and Yardena jokes that Shalom is the best husband and is very easy to get along with “because he’s never home, always working.” Because of Shalom’s around-the-clock work, Yardena was a stay-at-home mom but also helped with paperwork and bookkeeping for the restaurant. As their youngest child got older and started attending yeshiva full-time, Yardena was ready for new pursuits.

Shalom and Yardena owned the storefront next to Jerusalem Pizza and had seen a few kosher restaurants, including one Chinese and another Asian Fusion, come and sadly go. Then the storefront sat empty for three years. Shalom tried to entice retail businesses to rent the space but there were no takers. The Cohens thought it was a shame that the storefront remained vacant.

Around this time a well-regarded kosher Chinese restaurant in Manville, Lin’s, decided to close, and the owners—Mindy and Shaolin Lin—began to look for new work. Shalom and Yardena saw the different factors coming together and talked about setting up a kosher Chinese restaurant of their own.

Shalom asked Yardena if she’d manage the new business and initially she was not sure she was ready for such a demanding assignment. He joked, “You want to see me more? Then manage the store next door!” Yardena decided to take the plunge; they hired the Lins to join them in the restaurant (Shaolin works in the kitchen, Mindy is a server), and China Lee got started.

It seems that Shalom and Yardena made the right move because from the moment it opened on February 4, the restaurant has been greeted with great enthusiasm. Yardena reports that she has received many, many encouraging texts and comments from community members who see her on the street, in the grocery store and in shul. The message she hears most commonly is “Our community needed this kind of restaurant badly; thank you so much for making it happen!”

During the lunch hour one day in mid-February, in the middle of a snowstorm, the restaurant saw a steady stream of takeout customers and sit-down diners.

Take-out customer Moshe Weisel of Edison remarked: “The food is really good, the prices are right, the portions are the right size and it’s a very nice place to bring your family.”

Steven Lipstein of Highland Park brought his four children, Irene, Jacob, Sarah and Emily, for lunch and they tried a mix of dishes—vegetable lo mein, sesame beef, chicken with mixed vegetables, wonton soup, chicken lo mein, white rice and eggrolls. Steven offered this assessment: “We’re very happy that a new Chinese restaurant has opened in town. All the food was delicious and the service has been prompt. We like it!”

Avi and Cyndy Berger of Edison brought their son Dov for lunch and sampled the gluten-free chicken and mushrooms, the beef with snow peas and the sweet and sour chicken with white rice. Avi and Cyndy exulted: “This is a welcome addition to the Highland Park/Edison community and we’re so pleased that they can cater to gluten-free customers.”

After enjoying lunch there later the same week, Dovid Becker of Highland Park commented: “China Lee was wonderful! I had the lunch special, which was well priced and came with large portions. The soup was very flavorful and the chicken with cashews was very enjoyable. Ambiance was nice for a Chinese restaurant and I look forward to being a frequent customer. “

The China Lee restaurant offers a wide range of appetizers, soups, rices, lo mein,chow mein, chow fun (soft noodles), egg foo young, combination platters, and chicken, beef, veal and vegetable dishes. They also offer a variety of options to appeal to different tastes, including a diet menu, an American and kids’ menu, and an affordable lunch menu at $8.25 per person.

The restaurant is located at 229 Raritan Ave. and is open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Fridays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. They are under the supervision of the Vaad Harabonim of Raritan Valley. Customers can reach the China Lee glatt kosher Chinese restaurant by phone at 732/640-0050.

By Harry Glazer