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Jewish Diners and Chinese Food… Cherished Christmas Day Partners

Henry Kwok in his restaurant
Jamie Paisley
Henry Kwok, co-owner of Henry's Place and Asian Buffet in Okemos, MI, enjoying some calm before a deluge of Christmas Day diners come this weekend.

This weekend, many stores and restaurants will be closed for Christmas. But there is one group of businesses who thrive when most everyone else takes the day off.

“I’m Jewish, so I do eat Chinese food on Christmas, it’s something I’ve heard before.” Says Robyn Hughey of MSU Hillel. “I hadn’t really heard of why we do it, or what the historical context behind it."

"I was talking to my husband about it, and I just kind of assumed that it’s because that’s all that was open at the time. I mean a lot of places obviously close. And it’s definitely a social scene when you go to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas as a Jew, for sure. You see everyone. You know you’re home for winter break, so I’d be visiting my family in metro Detroit and we’d typically would go to Golden Phoenix in West Bloomfield, or Peking House in Royal Oak.”

We can't call it 'steady' anymore. It's busy like Black Friday all day. - Henry Kwok

According to Henry Kwok, co-owner of Asian Buffetin Okemos, MI, “We can’t call it 'steady' anymore. It’s busy like Black Friday all day.” Kwok also runs an adjoining restaurant, Henry’s Place, as well a banquet hall behind both establishments. However, only one of the restaurants will be open on December 25th. “Asian Buffet has never closed for Christmas, it’s always been open. Henry’s Place will be closed, because we don’t want to encourage drinking on that day.”

For Kwok, Christmas Day was always a tradition, but it took an act of Mother Nature to truly pack the diners in. “Asian Buffet has been open for about 20 years, and we were very busy the last 17 years for Christmas. It’s always been steady. But then the ice storm hit 3 years ago— or 2 years ago, and no one had power except for us. And everybody started flocking in on Christmas Day, and then we’ve never slowed down since on Christmas. So, it’s been a blessing and it’s been a curse.”

Kwok even brings in extra staff, all working at time-and-a-half for the holiday. Asian Buffet also opens up the banquet hall in the back to accommodate an extra 150 diners bringing the grand total of the Christmas Day capacity to approximately 500 guests at a time. “For this kind of busyness, we normally have enough stock in place, in the house. Because the one year with the ice storm, we were caught off guard. We almost didn’t have anything left in the fridge or the kitchen. But we are prepared every year for this now.” says Kwok.

Chanukah always occurs on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew Calendar, and for 2016, that means the first of the 8 nights of celebration begins on sundown of December 24th. But to Robyn Hughey, that likely won’t change any Chinese food plans this weekend. “I think Jews love the tradition of going and getting Chinese food. I think that’s something people enjoy doing. I think it just might be ‘Let’s go get Chinese food and then light the Menorah.’ But people might be having Chanukah parties too, I’m not really sure. I guess it’s up to every individual. I think Chanukah, especially, can be more of a children’s holiday, so if you don’t have kids, you’re probably going to get your Chinese food.”

No matter how or where you spend the holidays, it’s all about finding good fortune… the cookies are optional.

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