There’s a special couple in Manteca – Laurel and Isadore Fang – who have been serving customers for nearly 25 years on every special occasion from birthdays to anniversaries as well as business events with their unique entrees at their North Main Street dinner house and lounge.
Together they have weathered the storm of building a business and then seeing the Great Recession shoot a hole in it by cutting the number of diners to a minimum. I have watched the operation of their restaurant on North Main Street for all those years that included my tenure with the Manteca Rotary Club that met every Thursday at noon. As president of the club they would always hold my hot lunch until the business meeting was over and make sure there was a dish of champagne sorbet especially for me – always drawing raised eyebrows from the membership.
Since the recession took them down to the mat in 2008, they have been working almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week just attempting to stay afloat in these hard times. Neither is a quitter and they both have just kept on truckin’, fighting to keep their doors open.
Ask anyone who has known Laurel over the past two decades and they will tell you that she is a tough business woman, always counting her pennies in fear of rainy days that might come on the horizon – and come they did with more fury than just the slowing of business. Then poor health added a big blow to the equation.
She was stricken with a unique disease that has puzzled the doctors, losing 50 pounds that she didn’t have to lose in the first place. Rumors had it that she had cancer or maybe kidney problems, but not so she says. Still she has been going into the hospital for weekly testing to keep an eye on her once tentative physical condition.
Isadore would take treats to the nurses: garlic bread, cakes, and his wonderful clam chowder.
A recent family dinner at their restaurant brought compliments a week later from the guests telling of their appreciation for the way they were treated by the staff, even by the “older woman.” They commented further on the food, the service and the décor. It isn’t apparent that it’s not age at all but the result of being ill for over a year and they had no way of knowing.
Laurel has always been super conscious of her dress, her makeup and her overall appearance – always a lady and a welcoming hostess. She knew how she was appearing with her loss of weight, but that wouldn’t be apparent to the new clientele. She had taken on a fight for survival – they both have – not having any time to get away to be by themselves. They work even when they are closed on Sundays and Mondays. And as for her appearance, she has buried her pride and has kept on working harder than ever in her life praying they will be blessed with a turnaround of events.
“I’m feeling great right now,” she said recently. “I think that’s what counts.”
Laurel said her customers have been bringing in bags of clothes to help fit her new smaller size since she had given most of her “skinny clothes” away years ago, keeping only a few for sentimental reasons. She noted that one of her favorite customers, Linda Neeley, had brought her daughter in for lunch one day and Laurel commented on the younger woman’s dress – how pretty it was, and a gift from her mom that made it even more special.
“I was just commenting on the dress and Linda went out and bought me one just like it as a gift,” she said. “That’s the spirit of Manteca. Even as Manteca grows, I hope the new people in town will feel, learn, accept and share the heart and spirit of this town. The caring is seen in almost every customer coming through the door asking how I am. They are praying for me. Although now, I ask them to please pray for the business instead.”
A prayer group from St. Anthony’s Catholic Church has presented her with a blessed shawl that stays on her recliner at home where she uses it every night after getting out of the hospital for a three-month stay. And at home she has a rescue pooch that she had to spend time with in its cage at the pound, feeding her chicken pieces to get her to trust Laurel as her possible new owner. It had a lack of trust of people because it had been abused, she said. Now they walk together for four miles around town in the early morning hours, bonding as pals. The dog won’t let Laurel out of her sight.
My wife Mary Lou and I went there for dinner a few weeks ago. Laurel was there with her usual broad smile. It was more than obvious she was glad to see us come into the restaurant. Mary Lou had a spinach chicken salad and I just had to order their French Dip sandwich. They were both good, but the French Dip is made with tri-tip, sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions and Swiss cheese which is a melt in your mouth choice by Isadore.
In an effort to fight the recession they have offered a $15 out-the-door menu for residents of Merrill Gardens, The Commons and Prestige retirement centers. And there are $2 drinks on their happy hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I only hope that in writing this column, with my concern about my two friends, many of their former customers will see the need to give back and go out to dinner for just one night realizing the difference they can make in the process.
It’s really time to give back and help them in their fight, their struggle to remain in business. I am proud to have known them for so many years – fighters to the core – and big time still supporting each other with every ounce of energy they possess.