Will and Jeff Lo have been working at their parents’ restaurant for much of their lives. When their parents Sen and Chun opened New Kahala Chinese Cuisine in 1992, Will was nine and Jeff was 16.
Now, as the family prepares to celebrate 25 years of business in September, Will and Jeff are committing to providing the same food service their parents mandated for New Kahala for the past two and a half decades.
Before becoming a restaurant-centric family, father Sen Lo immigrated to United States in the early 1980s as an apprentice working with textile. Due to limited work in that industry, Sen Lo began work in a restaurant in New York City.
“He found a job at a kitchen. He started washing dishes, started to learn to cook, and a few years later mom came over from Taiwan and then started waitressing,” Will Lo said.
In 1990, Sen traveled to Carbondale for the first time to work for a family member who owned several area restaurants. In 1992, Sen and Chun opened New Kahala Chinese Cuisine along South Illinois Avenue.
In 2014, they moved the restaurant from its original location to its current location at 600 East Grand, shrinking their dining area, but expanding their kitchen space.
Will Lo said his parents have earned their success through experience and hard work.
“Since they learned it from the bottom up, they knew the business through and through,” Will Lo said. “Dad’s not a man who takes shortcuts. Everything he does he does it right. They felt they had the skillset to open one by themselves,”
Will Lo said that working since a young age and mirroring their parents has helped him and his brother develop complementary skill sets that will allow them to carry on their family’s legacy.
“We helped out. I was too young to really do anything all that seriously, but it taught me a skillset. I did a lot of cleaning, sweeping and mopping and whatnot, you know, on top of school,” he said. “Jeff did the same thing, but Jeff took more of the kitchen route while I took the outside route. He helped cook and cut and things of that sort in the kitchen.”
Since moving, Will and Jeff have continued to expand their responsibilities within the restaurant, but have no intention of rushing their dad out of the business.
“He’s 61,” Will Lo said of his father. “He works hard and it’s all he’s ever known in his life. I’m not going to push him to retire. He’ll retire on his own time when he’s good and ready.”
Will Lo says the business has something special for customers in celebration of its 25th anniversary, but has yet to decide what.
“We might do a couple of dishes like fried rice and do what we charged way back. We might do some commemorative cups,” he said. “We haven’t quite hammered it out, but want to make it fun and exciting for everyone.”