Located along El Camino Real, FEY Restaurant, also known as 福恩园 (Fu En Yuan) is one of the Peninsula’s Chinese restaurants serving authentic Sichuanese cuisine since 2012. Located in Southwestern China, the Sichuan province is known for its unique málà or numbing, spicy flavor, in its dishes.
In the 1980s, owner James Gao immigrated from Beijing, China to the Bay Area. “He worked a lot of tour bus driving and kitchen jobs. But eventually, he wanted to be his own boss,” said his daughter, Anita Gao. In the 1990s, James Gao decided to open up his first Chinese restaurant, James Hunan. Throughout the years, he has also opened restaurants in San Mateo and San Francisco. The Menlo Park location, which opened in 2012, is now their flagship restaurant. Currently, the restaurant is run by James Gao, his wife Han Ying, and Anita Gao.
However, James Gao’s journey wasn’t easy. “My dad struggled a lot. He lived in basements and faced a lot of racism working here. There were not a lot of Chinese restaurants in the 80s and my dad worked long hours,” said Anita Gao.
James Gao first immigrated to the US while Han Ying stayed in China. “In China, there would be a community phone where they got calls from the states. My mom would go to the community phones to call my dad. The only way to cope with homesickness was to just work and send all the money back home,” said Anita Gao.
At first, James Gao never thought about opening a restaurant, in China, he was a musician. “But, one thing led to another and he figured opening a restaurant would be the most profitable path rather than driving a tour bus every day and getting hourly pay,” she said.
Over the years, not only has FEY Restaurant brought authentic Sichuanese cuisine to the Peninsula, but has also trained its chefs to open their own restaurants, such as Little Sichuan in Fremont and Little Shanghai in San Mateo. Some chefs who work at Din Tai Fung locations across the Bay are also trained by James Gao. James Gao personally trains these chefs with his own recipes.
Being an established restaurant in the community for more than 30 years, the Gao family has built close relationships with their customers and people in the restaurant industry. “We have a lot of local customers and they make this place their home. A lot of our customers are Chinese and speak Mandarin. We have made a lot of friends. My parents have integrated and formed a community of restaurant owners and suppliers. We only employ immigrants and a lot of our chefs don’t have a standing when they first come over here, so we set them up with bank accounts and resources,” said Anita Gao.
Currently, the seasonal dish at Fey Restaurant is the lily bulb stir fry. The dish features fresh lily bulbs, celery, and wood ear mushrooms. The unique combination brings out a fragrant and mouthwatering flavor.
Anita Gao said, “My parents are here every day. It makes me happy to see the customers eat and order and enjoy their food. We are like a family with our staff and customers.”