The oft-used slogan, 'Customers are like family,' is more than just a motto for The Lingnan restaurant.
Thanks to an upcoming University of Alberta exhibition on multi-generational Chinese family businesses, the longstanding Edmonton eatery’s connection with its customers is included in the in-depth study.
"What are the secrets to the longevity of these family businesses?" asks Helen Cheung, special curator of Mercantile Mobility; Chinese Merchants in Western Canada. "We found the secret to their success is they treat their customers as family. It's almost like a guest coming into your home."
One out-of-town couple who has been dining at The Lingnan for more than six decades confirm the exhibition's findings.
"We wouldn't go anywhere else. They go way out of their way for customers,” said Albert Eskow, a regular at The Lingnan with his wife, Sophie. For 50 years, the couple has been making the once-a-month, 75-minute drive for a meal at The Lingnan, renowned for Chinese fare served in an ornate traditional setting.
"I like it all. Everything is very good," said Albert, 85, who first visited the eatery in 1954 at its original location at Jasper Avenue and 97 Street. He met Sophie a few years later and they soon became regular customers, marrying in 1960. Even after moving from the city in 1972, the couple continued to patronize The Lingnan.
'We're not old. We're just old-fashioned," quipped Albert, referring to himself and his 87-year-old partner. The pair regularly bring children and grandchildren for a meal along with customers from their family-owned vending business.
The eatery--which just celebrated 75 years--has also been featured in two TV shows and was part of the 'Chop Suey on the Prairies' exhibit by the Royal Alberta Museum from 2010 to 2013.
The Lingnan manager Miles Quon, son of current owner Kinman Quon and grandson of one of the founders, says the upcoming U of A exhibit will feature family history, photographs and memorabilia.
"We are lucky enough to be featured, but nothing has changed here. We are just happy to be part of the community," said Miles.
The Quons were featured on the Food Network's ‘Family Restaurant’ for one season in 2007 followed by ‘The Quon Dynasty' in 2011-2012, which was distributed internationally to 22 countries. The show was described as a "docu-soap series that follows Canada's favourite family of Chinese restaurateurs as they seek to solidify-and expand-their decades-old prominence on Edmonton's chow mein scene."
All five family members - Miles, parents Kinman and Amy, brother Marty and sister Mandy - were part of the cast for the 30-minute shows.
The Lingnan was first opened in 1947 by several brothers--including Kinman’s father Ping Quon--at the corner of Jasper and 97 Street.
"The main dish was chop suey. We used to have a section of western food, like burgers, but now we don’t have room for western food," said Miles, though he adds chicken fingers and fries are still available.
"The core of the menu is the same but a lot of new items have been incorporated. One of the big things is Szechuan beef and ginger beef, along with new Chinese greens that have come out since the 1940s.”
While COVID-19 restrictions took a toll on the restaurant industry, The Lingnan--which has 18-20 full and part-time staff--managed by focusing on takeout and delivery service.
"We did not sit idle. We did some renos and repairs, although people did say it was weird to see a dark, empty restaurant," said Miles. "Many customers dropped by to see if we were okay. It was very heartwarming."
"We have regular customers who are with us forever. Kids bring their kids who bring their kids. We know their names. They love their Lingnan. This is an institution that connects everybody."
The Lingnan is one of 14 businesses included in the U of A exhibition--scheduled to open in May--along with an accompanying publication this spring. (https://www.uap.ualberta.ca/titles/1053-9781551954691-mercantile-mobility)