Sitting across the table from me in his new restaurant, China Legend – the third Chinese take-out spot that he has opened in Shreveport-Bossier in 11 years – Sky Lin is having a hard time saying what makes his restaurant special. At first, I think it’s because he can’t think of anything that sets his restaurants apart from other Chinese take-out places in the city. But then I realize: He just doesn’t want to say that his food is better than that of his competitors, even if it’s true (with 91% positive reviews out of 270 reviews on Urbanspoon, his Bossier City restaurant, Lin’s Kitchen, is ranked as one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in the city). Because, honestly, Lin is just one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. And, while I’ve always found the food in his restaurants to be uncommonly fresh, delicious and affordable, the friendly service at Lin’s restaurants is what really makes them special.
When his family moved from Shreveport to Bossier to open Lin’s Kitchen on Stockwell Road, his Shreveport customer base followed – albeit begrudgingly. “We opened the restaurant in Bossier, and our Shreveport customers would drive 35 minutes to come see us. We opened a Shreveport location because so many asked us to come back to Shreveport,” Lin said.
But, in the context of his life, moving around is pretty much what Lin does. He immigrated to the U.S. from Fuzhou, China at age 19, cooking for three years in Chinese restaurants in New York City, Chicago and Florida. After working with a friend in Memphis for a while, he set out on an epic road trip looking for a place to open his own restaurant. His drive – from Memphis to Shreveport – took four weeks. Four weeks?
“In 2001,” he said, laughing at himself, “No GPS. No Google Maps.”
He’d sleep in his car or occasionally in a motel (“Not hotel,” he says, emphasizing the point by holding up his hand. “Motel.”) and stopped in every sizable city between here and Memphis, using old-fashioned street maps to search for rental properties that could work as a restaurant. He settled on Shreveport, and opened his first restaurant at age 22. Why Shreveport?
“Because it was my first time,” he says. “I had to like the location. I liked Shreveport, 100 percent.”
Well, Mr. Lin, we like you, too. Even if we currently only like you 91 percent, 100 percent isn’t out of the question.
China Legend is open, Mon-Thu, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun., 12-9:30 p.m. To order by phone, call (318) 861-1811.