‘Forced to retire’: Peoria restaurant to close rather than relocate, owner says

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‘Forced to retire’: Peoria restaurant to close rather than relocate, owner says

PEORIA — Shu Lee is retiring, but she’s not happy about it.

The 65-year-old had hoped to keep running her Lee’s Chinese Garden for at least a year or two more at Glen Haven Shopping Center. But she found out recently that tenants will have just 90 days left at Glen Haven, which is being sold to make way for a car wash. Amid multiple challenges, she does not think she can afford to relocate.

“Forced to retire!” Lee yelled. “No choice!”

A native of Taiwan, Lee has been an employee and owner of Chinese restaurants in Peoria for 23 years. In 2012, she and her husband opened Lee’s Chinese Garden at Glen Haven, a small, 66-year-old strip mall at Glen Avenue and University Street. 

“When I came, there was nothing,” she said.

The couple set up a small, informal dining area of seven tables and brought in a massive kitchen set-up. She said the cooking equipment — from the powerful overhead fan to the thick oven piping — is specialized and expensive. Moving it would take a lot of work and a lot of money, she said.

“Too much money,” she said. 

Read this: 6 Peoria businesses are moving to make way for a car wash. Here are their plans

The restaurant’s already has been hobbled by a dip in customers during COVID-19. Still, at least faithful clientele know where to find the eatery. Not so with a new address, she said. 

Plus, Lee said, it’s hard to find a suitable site adaptable to her big kitchen layout. A new location would require multiple permits and inspections from the City of Peoria, the Peoria Fire Department and the Peoria City/County Health Department.

More: Controversial car wash approved to replace Glen Haven Shopping Center

All told, the relocation process would take at least 10 months, she said. That span would mean seven months without income. 

“Where do I go?” Lee said “I don’t know. … It’s hard to move.”

She can’t see a practical way to transition to a new spot. Even if she somehow were to relocate, she can’t foresee turning a profit amid so many challenges. 

Lee wishes things were different. But she cannot imagine pushing the restaurant to survive after mid-July.

“I’m 65,” she said with a tight smile. “I don’t have so much energy.”

Past coverage: Business owners prepare to move out of shopping plaza if car wash is approved

Phil Luciano is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at pluciano@pjstar.com and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.