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Beijing Restaurant reopens in Duluth

The London Road restaurant welcomed back customers after a 2018 fire damaged much of the space.

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From left: UMD students Tyler Grimm, John Ross, Marcus Chase and Sam Carver enjoy their lunch at Beijing Restaurant Tuesday. The frequent visitors have a competition to see if anyone can finish their meal without getting rice on the table. Usually no one wins. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Every Sunday, four University of Minnesota Duluth students made a trip down the hill to eat at the Beijing Restaurant. The Hunan- and Szechuan-style Chinese food brought the group back week after week, they said.

A fire in 2018 damaged much of the restaurant and ended their weekly trip, but on Tuesday, during a lunch break between classes, the four roommates were ecstatic to be back for opening day.

“Honestly, I woke up to the best news of my life,” Tyler Grimm said from a booth at the restaurant.

After more than a year of work to replace a fire-damaged interior, the restaurant, located at 1918 London Road, reopened Tuesday morning to welcome back eager customers.

The fire caused extensive damage and closed the restaurant for over a year. Owners Cindy Lee and Chang Wang had plans to reopen in October after remodeling the dining area, but custom-built features pushed that date back to February, Lee said.

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Despite the fire damage, Lee said they decided to reopen because they own the building and do “good business.”

“We'll try it (to) see if we like it or not — and we're still young,” she said.

Less than an hour before the restaurant was set to open its doors, Lee said in an interview that “I'm kind of excited and nervous.”

The approximately 60-seat establishment was also ready to welcome customers back. The soy sauce was set, staff were prepping and chairs were arranged. The space contains two large corner booths that seat around 10 people, four regular-sized booths and more than a dozen tables. Bamboo paneling accents the booths and counters.

Although the interior has changed, its menu, staff and lake-front view has stayed the same, Lee said. The prices increased — only slightly — by 5-10 cents.

The food and prices are why Scott Lau came back on opening day.

Lau is a contractor for Great Lakes Drywall and Painting, and would buy lunch from Beijing for his staff. “They're full and they'll actually work after they're done eating this,” he said.

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A heaping plate of General Tso's chicken waits to be devoured by Tyler Grimm at Beijing Restaurant Tuesday. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Lee said they opted to keep much of the business the same because its past operations worked for them: By keeping prices low and the food fresh, they were able to draw crowds of people. The restaurant needed a large amount of customers to turn a profit.

“We did ... good in the normal way, so we don't want to change that much,” Lee said.

Started in 1995, the restaurant was first housed in the former Plaza strip mall.

The restaurant went head-to-head with CVS when it wanted to buy out tenant leases to build a new location in 2012. The pharmacy giant purchased the property for $2.3 million, but was required to work with existing tenants.

Lee and Wang refused to be bought out, as the restaurant's lease lasted until the end of 2014.

It ended up being the only business operating at the mall for around a year, when Lee and Wang finally took a buyout in 2013 so Wang could travel to China. The CVS project was held up for over a year.

A few years after the Plaza location closed, Lee said her husband was bored and came across the former Pizza Hut building for sale, located just a half-mile from the old location. The current location had more parking and a lakefront view.

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After Tuesday's lunch, the UMD roommates said they’ll be going back to their Sunday schedule from here on out.

“We’ve gone to a bunch of different places trying to (fill) all our needs,” Sam Carver said.

“But nothing’s like Beijing here,” Grimm agreed.

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