The holiday season can be the best of times, worst of times and everything in between. Sometimes within the same day.
Just ask the owner of one of the area’s favorite Chinese restaurants. This week, we talk about his hardships as he reopens, and examine a devastating fire that has left a Baltimore cook at the end of her rope.
I also have exciting updates about a new distillery in Howard County and a karaoke bar where you can sing in the new year.
Szechuan House reopens, and it’s a rough start
Two years after it shut down its location at 1407 York Rd., Szechuan House has reopened at a new spot. The beloved Chinese restaurant is now at 2159 F York Rd., across the street from the Timonium Fairgrounds.
It’s been a long and bumpy road to the grand opening, just ahead of Christmas, the busiest time of the year for many Chinese restaurants. After opening last week, owner Robert Wang said the restaurant is struggling to find staff — he has been doing everything from washing dishes to carving the restaurant’s signature duck himself.
Restaurant openings are rarely a bed of roses, even for experienced restaurateurs. And the pandemic-era labor crisis that has so impacted the hospitality industry has been even more of a challenge for Chinese restaurants like Wang’s, which have extensive menus requiring cooks who are skilled in wok techniques and other hard-to-learn cooking styles.
Before it closed, Szechuan House had been in business for nearly 30 years, and many were shocked and saddened to hear about the shutdown. A “Friends of Szechuan House MD” Facebook page has 1,000 likes and has been posting hopeful updates, urging customers to have patience and manage expectations.
Columbia’s new Oversea Distillery will launch a tasting room where around 30 customers at a time can sample its spirits.
Owner Zechang “Alex” Liu of Ellicott City told Howard County’s alcoholic beverage hearing board Dec. 13 that the distillery, located at 9315 Snowden River Parkway, is in the same area as Black Flag Brewing Co. and will collaborate with its neighbors to host food trucks during events.
The 20,000 square foot distillery, one of the area’s biggest, also includes a large event space with stage.
Liu said Oversea Distillery will target a variety of products, including bourbon whiskey, vodka, rum and gin made from locally-grown grains. Cocktails served in the tasting room will feature Chinese influences and flavors, a nod to Liu’s home country.
Liu, who was born in China and has lived in Ellicott City for more than 40 years, told The Baltimore Banner he is looking to have the grand opening in either late January or early February.
Honey + Karaoke
Want to belt out “Don’t Stop Believin’” at the top of your lungs but don’t want a big audience?
A nearly 3,000-square foot restaurant and karaoke bar has opened in the same shopping center as Honey Pig, the popular Korean BBQ restaurant at 10045 Baltimore National Pike in Ellicott City.
Honey + Karaoke has many small rooms to allow customers to sing their favorite songs away from the crowds. Patrons ring a bell to summon a server and can order finger food and an assortment of Korean dishes.
The establishment has been operating as a BYOB since it opened around a year ago, but will shift operations after getting its liquor license in Howard County, licensee James Kim of Clarksville told the board. Kim is also a longtime manager at Honey Pig.
Before voting Dec. 13 to approve the new license, Charley Sung, a member of Howard County’s alcoholic beverage hearing board, said the private karaoke room business, while a popular concept in Korea, is something “that’s missing in Howard County.”
There was one issue with the application: Some of the required signatures submitted by real estate owners were from outside the business’ election district. Kim will need to get new signatures before the liquor license is officially granted.
Updates on Baltimore’s parklets
Baltimore’s Department of Transportation announced last week that it will extend existing outdoor dining permits through the end of June of 2023 while it fine-tunes its “parklets” policy.
During the coronavirus crisis, the city waived its usual fees to restaurants that wanted to expand their outdoor dining into sidewalks and parking spaces. But moving forward, officials will propose an annual fee of $10 per square foot, among other changes.
Officials are again seeking residents’ feedback on the program it’s calling the Curbside Commercial Policy during a new public comment period that will run through January 20.
The first public comment period in the fall drew more than 1,000 responses, overwhelmingly in support of the parklets.
Nepenthe Brewing Co. cook loses home in a fire
It can be a tough season to be a restaurant industry employee.
Tougher still if you’re Tahja Rivers, a cook at Hampden’s Nepenthe Brewing Co.
Her home at 1702 East 28th St. burned down in a fire on Dec. 20. Rivers was at work when the fire happened at around 7 p.m. Her mom, brother and two of her kids were in the house at the time and were able to get out safely. They called the fire department, who Rivers said arrived 30 minutes later.
A spokeswoman for Baltimore’s fire department did not respond to requests for information from The Baltimore Banner.
Between flames, smoke and water damage from the firehoses, the house was ruined. Gone: Rivers’ clothes, her kids’ birth certificates and social security cards, jewelry and other prized possessions. Also, $3,000 worth of Christmas presents for her kids and extended family. She didn’t have renter’s insurance and wonders what she’ll do next. “At some point,” she said, “my head just goes blank.”
Rivers and her three kids, mom and brother were sleeping in a hotel just before Christmas. Her kids, ages 18, 14 and 6, seem okay, but she worries about what they went through. They’re now obsessed with unplugging things and turning things off.
Friends and coworkers from the restaurant have loaded up the family with presents, toiletries and other items to help them out. Her son got a Nintendo Switch. She cries when she thinks about it.
By Tuesday, Rivers was back to work at the restaurant.