After 28 years in Fremont, Brass Wok owner Shih-Ping Fu said it’s time for him to finally close shop.
“I’ve raised my family and kept my business, but I really need to retire,” he said. “I’m 72 years old, and I can’t handle this.”
Brass Wok, a Chinese restaurant at 330 W. 23rd St., will close its doors on Sept. 30. The restaurant, which has been in the community since 1992, offers drive-thru, take-out and buffet options.
Fu, who is originally from Taiwan, came to the United States at age 34 with his family, which included his wife and two sons. The family initially lived in Portland, Oregon, where he started work at a Chinese restaurant.
“When we came over the sea, I didn’t know how to speak English well, I didn’t go to school here, so I didn’t have any school credit here to go looking for different jobs,” he said. “This kind of business, I knew it, so I could handle it. That’s why I kept doing this.”
After living in Portland, the Fu family moved to Omaha, where they live today. There, Fu worked for his uncle at his restaurant, The Great Wall.
“Right now it’s gone, but by the time I moved here, I learned the cooking, I learned doing business from him,” he said. “In 1992, I came to Fremont looking for this building to start a business.”
Not wanting to work for somebody else anymore, Fu found his building in Fremont, which had been a steakhouse for the last 22 years.
“At that time, they wanted to sell the building, so I looked at it, and in just a few days, made a decision and we bought it,” he said.
One of Brass Wok’s first workers has lived in an apartment above the restaurant since the very beginning.
“Twenty-eight years,” Fu said. “It’s hard to find an employee to stay with you that long.”
Fu said Brass Wok’s first year of business was tough for him as he had to learn more about his customer base, but he eventually got better and better at serving his customers.
With many Chinese restaurants, Fu said they’re too commercial and mechanical in their operations.
“I’m not, because I’m here every day, because I face my customers, I associate with the customers, ask them how they like it, how’s their family, how’s their kids, day by day, year by year,” he said. “They know me pretty well, and I know my customers pretty well, so we have a pretty good relationship.”
Working 11- or 12-hour shifts six days a week for 28 years, Fu said he knew it was time to retire soon to give his mind and body a break.
“I’ve run this for 28 years, with only vacation once in a while, not that much, but I need to retire,” he said. “I have grandchildren, and I have to enjoy my grandchildren, enjoy my life.”
Fu said he’s planning on leasing the building, with the possibility of selling it in the future. He said he’s also helped his employee living above the restaurant find a new job, as he will have to move out.
In his 28 years at Brass Wok, Fu said he learned the importance of having to dedicate himself to his job to make the restaurant successful. While big businesses can have multiple positions, he said his small family restaurant needed him there every day.
“You’ve got to be just watching everything,” he said. “You’ve got to be here, you can’t think you can just come in, hire somebody to work for you, and then come and grab the money and go home. That’s not how it works.”
Fu said the Fremont community has given him plenty of opportunities over the years. He always appreciated their kindness, which he always tried to give back. Even if he doesn’t always know their names, he’s still learned their orders throughout the years.
“When people walk in, you’ve got to let the people feel you want them and appreciate them coming,” Fu said. “That’s the most important part of doing business.”
Ultimately, Fu said he was glad to have been able to run Brass Wok, which he said allowed even more opportunities for his family.
“So my favorite part is by running this business, I could save some money to provide to my kids who could go to college, finish their college, and raise my family,” he said. “That’s really, for me, that’s part of what I’m doing here.”
Although he said he didn’t want to close the restaurant, Fu said he knew he needed to and that he felt lucky to be a part of the Fremont community with Brass Wok.
“Thank you to Fremont, everybody, every family, all of my friends. I really appreciate you supporting me for 28 years,” he said. “They took care of me very, very well, keeping my business running.”
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