By Eric Butler: CNJ Correspondent
When his restaurant went up in flames on July 18, 2004, Harry Wang was sadly there for the end of an era. The Main Street restaurant was the first in a chain of China Stars that eventually sprouted in Amarillo, Lubbock, Roswell and Albuquerque.
At the urging of former customers and a nudge from his wife, Wang plans on opening the New China Star Superbuffet by the end of this year. Wang opted not to build at the old location, but instead will be leasing space in the strip mall that lies on the north end of the Wal-Mart parking lot.
“The first few months after it burned down, I was feeling pretty devastated,” said Wang, also the city of Clovis’ public works director. “I didn’t plan on doing anything further.”
Wang said the time period was marked with former customers encouraging him to re-open.
“The first few months I didn’t pay very much attention. I thanked them, but the more they said (they missed it), the more I believed it was real — that they seriously wanted our food,” he said. “And my wife (Sara Huang) wanted to do that too. She had more desire to reopen than I did.”
The China Star was started almost literally by accident by James Su in the early 1990s.
“He (Su) was passing by this area and got into a car accident and ended up in the hospital,” said Wang, who purchased the restaurant in 2001. “He started asking the nurse about the Chinese food around here. He saw an opportunity and then it spread out.”
Wang said his new restaurant will have approximately the same amount of floor space as the Main Street location — which was destroyed after a grease fire got out of control. The new China Star is expected to have from 15 to 18 employees and plans are also in the works to extend the parking lot west of the strip mall.
“I think it’ll help our business, more traffic coming in and out, especially with Subway closing and moving into the Wal-Mart,” said Jessica Hankins, an assistant manager of Cato, a women’s clothing store located in the strip mall.
Wang said he decided to move ahead with plans for the restaurant despite concerns whether Cannon Air Force Base might be closed.
“Yes, we had the concern, but we also had the enthusiasm of the customers who are local. Some are military, some are not,” Wang said. “We hope we stick our neck out and don’t get it chopped off. But we have a positive attitude and we just want to do some good for Clovis.”