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Popular Asian restaurant reopens after year-long absence

Although turkey was on most people’s minds this past week, many here were celebrating the return of their favorite Chinese cuisine as Phan Shin reopened after an absence of more than 17 months.

The popular Asian restaurant shut down after business on May 29, 2017 for the building to be completely removed and a new one constructed.

The replacement building was expected to be finished within a year but June of this year came and went with work still unfinished and then work went on inside to get ready for the reopening with brown paper covering the windows looking out onto High Street.

Then, a few weeks ago, whispers started among people awaiting the reopening, “The paper has come down.”

They opened back up for business last Sunday.

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The round tables popular with patrons in the old Phan Shin building return to the new facility in a back corner affording friends to meet for food and conversation with a bit of privacy. The three-paneled sign means harmony in the family. (Bob Ratterman)

“It took a while but it was worth the wait,” said Yvonne Lin, manager of Phan Shin, a few days before the opening. She and her husband, John, bought the restaurant in 2008. “We’re definitely excited, also a little nervous. I hope everything runs smooth.”

The Chinese restaurant competition has grown during the 17 months Phan Shin has been closed. Lin said there were about ten Asian restaurants in June of last year and now that number has grown to more than 15 with more expected.

“Other Chinese restaurants have specialties. I have mine. We are not competitive,” she said. “We have been here 34 years. I am confident we are here to stay.”

Phan Shin opened in 1985 and the owners were looking to sell the restaurant when the Lins met them through mutual friends. They came up to Oxford from London, Ky. where they lived at the time and met to talk about buying the restaurant.

“We came here for a visit. A friend told us it was available. It was meant to be. They tried to sell for three or five years. We talked. We had so much in common,” she said, explaining they were not allowed to talk to customers. “We sat across the street for two hours and watched.”

What they saw convinced them to move to Oxford, buy the restaurant and become part of the community.

The nine dragons lined up on the two sides of the counter at the newly-reopened Phan Shin are appropriate for the restaurant because the Chinese word sounds similar to that for ongoing. (Bob Ratterman)

She said the first couple years were difficult ones in the business, but the two or three years prior to the shutdown were the best years they had experienced. Like every business in town, she said those early years were an adjustment to the college academic schedule with the annual downturn in business during the summer months.

It was an old building, however, and the tipping point came when the old Princess Theater was torn down. Their building had shared some walls with the theater and that convinced them something needed to be done.

“It was not a hard decision. I love the town. It is a nice place to raise a family. It was not a hard decision to stay. In the year, more Chinese restaurants opened. I did not feel threatened. I see a lot of customers wherever I go and they tell me how patiently they are waiting,” she said. “I felt loved. I think it can make it work.”

Lin said she used the time the restaurant was closed to work another part-time job and spend time with her son and daughter, both middle school students, as well as travel to visit family in China and Canada.

“I found out I have more relatives than I knew,” she said.

The restaurant opened with both a new look and the familiar feel, something Lin said they planned all along. There is much more natural light with the large windows facing High Street and a brighter feel inside.

They did keep the wooden tables and chairs for a more traditional feel and the round tables popular with many customers for meals and prolonged conversation return in the back area for that familiar private group feel many enjoyed.

“We wanted to modernize a little bit, but keep a touch of the old Phan Shin,” she said. “We do the best we can. Look carefully and you see touches of the past.”

As you walk in the door, the first thing you see is the dragons lined up across the front of the counter. They were in the same location in the old restaurant but they are split for the break to give staff access to the kitchen and behind the counter. Three dragons are on the left side and six on the right.

Lin said the dragons are symbolic of their return to business. She explained the Chinese word for the nine dragons is similar to that of the word “ongoing,” something she sees as a good sign for their reopening.

Another symbolic piece are three framed Chinese characters on the wall near the round tables.

“They mean harmony in the family,” Lin said. “That is the basis for success in any undertaking.”

Lin said it was encouraging to her that staff members prior to the closure have returned for the reopening. She said she thinks of employees as family and is proud to see they took temporary jobs during the past 17 months intending to return.

“We are very fortunate. The majority of the crew is back,” she said.

One of those is Loreta Vargas who has been at the restaurant since nearly the beginning and is thrilled to return to work there.

“She is a good lady. A good boss,” Vargas said. “I have been here more than 30 years. People think I owner. I have been here a long time. That’s why everywhere I go, everyone knows me because I’m here.”

Lin said the menu is the same but with some “little adjustments” and they offer lunch specials every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The restaurant, at 104 West High Street, is open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. They offer free delivery on orders of $10 or more. Phone numbers are 513-523-1020 and 513-523-1021.

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