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Monday, May 27, 2024

Ogden’s Panda Chinese to close after 30 years, Oaxacan restaurant to take over

WILMINGTON — “It’s been so heartwarming,” Deming Chu said Monday morning about her restaurant’s last weekend serving its loyal fanbase. “We may not make it to Thursday, actually.”

That’s when Chu and her husband, Henry, will close the doors to Panda Chinese. The weekend was busy and supplies are low. Propane also has risen exponentially and they aren’t placing another order. 

“They have minimum deliveries … $500,” she said. 

Panda Chinese’s lease is up on June 30. Chu said it’s been 30 years since they moved into 7316 Market St., located next to Big Lots! Originally from China, she and her husband relocated to Wilmington from Boston in 1994 to raise their family and operate the restaurant.

For many in the Ogden area, the restaurant has become a staple, including for patron Liz Gaines, who said her father-in-law introduced her to the eatery years ago. He would go weekly with his best friend and always spoke fondly about the owners.

“Everyone was always friendly,” she said. The Cantonese-style cuisine was consistent as well.

During a visit before Covid, Gaines said the owner noticed her daughter looking at all the “panda stuffies upfront” and generously gifted one to the girl. 

“We, of course, still have it,” Gaines said.

Chu said though takeout soared during Covid, they weren’t without normal struggles most in the industry face. Specifically, finding employees became increasingly hard.

“The younger generations didn’t seem interested in learning the skills to cook in the kitchen,” she said. 

And her children had moved on to other careers, in software development and pharmaceuticals. Added to the decision to close were Chu’s parents’ diminishing health. Her mother passed away three months ago due to cancer and her father, who lives in Chicago, now needs care after suffering a stroke. Chu and her husband will move between Chicago and Wilmington in the interim to be of assistance after they close Panda Chinese.

Though there aren’t plans to necessarily open another restaurant — ”I don’t think I have it in me again,” Chu said — they are leaving the space in another restaurateur’s hands. Guelaguetza Oaxaca is taking over by fall.

“It will be focused on natural ingredients and flavors of Oaxaca,” Cinthya Regino said on behalf of her family, including Stella Jakare Azamar Vicente and Yadira Regino Gonzalez, who will operate the establishment.

It is the family’s first eatery and will tout generations of family recipes. Regino said signature dishes will include memelitas (traditional snacks in Oaxaca, toasted or fried masa cakes topped with Mexican flavors) and tlayudas (large thin handmade tortillas, partially fried or toasted and covered with refried beans, lettuce or cabbage, avocado, meat, Oaxaca cheese, and salsa).

“Everything is made from scratch and fresh,” she said, with prices ranging from $10 to $25.

Renovations will begin as soon as the Chu family vacates. Specifically, Regino said they will be decorating to represent their culture and will have 14 tables for folks to dine inside (“no bar for right now”). Takeout also will be available and the family is  planning for a September launch.

As for diners who want a lasting bite of Panda Chinese, Chu said they have a parting gift: “We are probably going to post the recipe for our wings on Facebook. Everyone loves our wings, so anyone can make it and have a taste of Panda Chinese when we are gone.”

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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