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Silver Celebration

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(above) ALL IN THE FAMILY: Joseph Hou and his wife celebrate 25 years of serving Wilmington’s culinary community with their family restaurant, Szechuan 132. Photo by Trent Williams
One of the most genuinely kind and honest restaurateurs in town will be celebrating 25 years in Wilmington on October 8th—and he will be doing so by paying forward the support and love he has received from the Wilmington community since 1988. Joseph Hou of Szechuan 132 will be pairing up with the Good Shepherd Center to feed numerous people on his silver anniversary day, Tuesday, the 8th. His goodwill won’t stop there either.

“Every month for the whole year, we’ll be partnering up with a local nonprofit to provide meals for those in need,” Hou says. He will announce the nonprofits Szechuan 132 will help every month through October 2014. “Reaching this anniversary is a very special accomplishment for us,” Hou says. “We’ve been waiting 25 years for this, so we’ve decided it’s just not enough to celebrate for one day—we want to celebrate the whole year!”

In addition, folks who wish to dine at the University Landing restaurant can enjoy a prix-fixe meal for $25 for two people on the 8th. The silver anniversary special will include an appetizer to share, an entrée for each person and a dessert to share. Szechuan 132’s menu comes packed with traditional Chinese entrées, as well as a touch of Thai and Japanese, all made with careful care.

“There are no secrets or tricks in our industry,” Hou states. “Providing quality service, maintaining a clean and welcoming atmosphere, understanding the market trend, giving the customers the best value for their dollar, and maintaining consistency of good food are the best ‘secret’ ingredients for success.”

Hou stumbled into the restaurant industry after leaving his family’s business of tanning leather in the late ‘80s. Though he can’t exactly pinpoint what convinced him to take on Wilmington’s restaurant industry, he knows the one thing that fuels it today: passion.

“Deep down in my heart, after 25 years, I still look forward to going into Szechuan 132 everyday,” Hou says. “I get to be an artist in my own fun little world. I play with different ingredients in the kitchen. I dance, tango, and marry food and drinks together.”

This playfulness translates into his customer service as well. Hou, his family and staff treat their diners with exceptional respect. It’s nothing to see him circling the dining room and pulling up a seat with regulars.

“We take extra time to personalize our communications and make our customers feel like a part of the Szechuan 132 family,” Hou says. “We want to keep an open line of communication to encourage any feedback we can get.”

Maintaining this strong customer base remains top priority, essentially because it’s what he believes. “Each and every one of our customers is irreplaceable,” he says. “If you talk to anyone with a marketing background, they will tell you that it costs 10 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.”

To find the balance between the two, Szechuan 132 constantly offers promotions, reaches out via social media and markets through local media as well. Hou’s close ties to community strengthen daily, as he employs numerous students from UNCW, located right around the corner from Szechuan 132.

“We love the idea of having a positive impact, especially in being able to provide jobs for students while they are in school,” notes Hou, who has put two of his own children through college. “Watching our student staff develop skills to be bright, smart and hard-working, and transition from students to contributing citizens in ‘the real world,’ is a feeling that no amount of money can buy. Today, we can proudly brag that the students who went through the Szechuan 132 obstacle course have moved on to become architects, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, business owners, social workers, restaurant owners, accountants and actuaries.”

Asian restaurants aplenty have come and gone through Wilmington. While Hou certainly is not the first of his ilk, Szechuan 132 remains of optimal importance because it was one of the first to forego the typical fast-food/takeout Chinese model.

“During the summer of 1988, I was just the new kid in town,” Hou states. “There were a few Asian restaurants, and they all seemed to be doing fine. However, it struck me that I didn’t see any of these restaurants with a ‘table cloth’ dining room. I decided to fill this niche. After 25 years, we’re still a table cloth restaurant.”

A lot has evolved since. Mainly Hou sees the small mom-and-pops sometimes overshadowed by franchises. “Back when I first arrived in Wilmington, only a few franchised restaurants survived because local patrons, looking for a feeling of family, belonging and pride, would frequent mom-and-pop restaurants more,” Hou notes. “Today, the game has changed. Consumers looking for familiarity frequent franchise restaurants more than local stores. Franchises can flash their name out to you in every way possible—even in your dreams. They have much deeper pockets and can afford a stronger marketing department. They spend money on advertisements everywhere—TV, magazines, newspapers. They can afford to get their name more recognition. Unfortunately, this has been to the detriment of local mom-and-pop restaurants.”

But Hou is not allowing the competition to deter his stronghold. Like any industry, it has its ups and downs. Long hours can translate to missed family events, football games or dance recitals. Still, the ever-positive Hou is the first to recognize its rewards outweigh the difficulties.

“My restaurant fosters the opportunity for me to delight in, bond and strengthen friendships,” he says. “We hope that years down the road, the Szechuan 132 name can become one of many topics at Wilmingtonian family dinner tables. We hope to hear that we are not only serving good food, but that we’re a fun place with reasonable prices. With all the laughter and sweet, unforgettable and priceless memories we have all shared and created at Szechuan 132, we want our name to be one that is passed down from one generation to the next.”

DETAILS: Szechuan 132
Silver Anniversary
Tuesday, October 8th
Charitable feeding at the Good
Shepherd Center • 811 Martin St.
$25 dinner for two at the restaurant
419 S. College Rd. • (910) 799-1426

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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