“Sixty years?!? Already???” Peter Lee says, feigning surprise as we inform him of the milestone about to be crossed by the restaurant he manages, Wildwood’s iconic Dragon House.
While Lee’s surprise may have been in jest, 60 years is in fact an incredible amount of time for a restaurant to stay in business, particularly at the shore where it seems like something new is popping up every year. Somehow the Dragon House has managed to outlast most of its competitors.
“The longevity here has a lot to do with their consistency and having a really good relationship with the customers,” says Lisa Chestnut a consultant for Dragon House who helps run their day to day business.
And while many businesses can claim to treat its customers well, Dragon House takes things a step further.
“It goes beyond just being a restaurant. They know their customers by their first names. When they come in it’s not just handshakes, it’s hugs and kisses. They treat people like family. It’s not ‘hey — come sit down, eat and get out,’” Chestnut says with a laugh.
“Every year we hold a customer- appreciation event in celebration of the Chinese New Year. We close the restaurant down for the day and have a private party where our regular customers come and join us for dinner. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. We had a little over 600 guests this year 2018. I don’t know of any other restaurant that does something like that.”
The roots of the Dragon House go back to when it was first opened in 1959 by the Marks family, who also owned a cooking school in New York City. While the original owners are no longer running the show, the current staff is in direct lineage with them.
“Everybody involved with the restaurant today is either related to the original family who has since retired, or has studied under them,” Chestnut assures.
Though many Chinese restaurants have developed a bad reputation for using cheap, frozen or premade ingredients, Dragon House sets itself apart by holding itself to a higher standard.
“Just about everything is made to order here, which is really nice. About 97 percent of the menu,” Chestnut notes. “They cut all the meats down themselves and they are very hands on when it comes to the ingredients,”
As for popular dishes? “Without a doubt the General Tso’s chicken and the Grand Marnier prawns — a dish featuring jumbo shrimp topped with their signature sauce and homemade honey walnuts — are the most popular. Also popular is the steak Polynesian, which consists of both strip steak and pork loin. It gets put on the grill and served with vegetables.”
Of course these dishes are the mere tip of the iceberg, as Dragon House-like most Chinese restaurants-has a massive menu loaded with all of the classic Chinese staples such as sweet and sour chicken, roast pork lo mein, beef and broccoli and many more.
The food may keep customers coming back again and again, but in a seasonal market like Wildwood how does a restaurant manage to keep its doors open year round?
“Their bread and butter is the summer, but there is just enough customer loyalty to get by in the offseason.”Chestnut assures us.
With 60 years of experience under its belt, it’s hard to doubt them anyway. After so much success, it’s easy to picture the Dragon House staying open for another 60 years, welcoming customers each day with open arms and some really good Chinese food.
“It’s hard to say where it’s going to go, but as of right now, they are happy.” Chestnut says with a smile.