This is my first installment of what I hope to be more posts about the typical Chinese Canadian restaurant in small towns around BC. Let me introduce to you Sam Wong and the Dragon Lotus restaurant in Peachland, BC.
In 1974, at the age of 3, Sam Wong left Vietnam with his mom to escape the Vietnam war. They first escaped to Cambodia as refugees where they stayed for 5 years. In 1979 they made their way to Estevan, Saskatchewan, sponsored by a local church. He and his mom lived in Estevan until 1987 when they decided to move to Aldergrove BC.
At an early age, Sam began cooking to help out his mom while she was at work. He enjoyed the cooking and in 1989, got a job as a delivery boy at a local Chinese restaurant. He befriended the owner's son and gradually learned Chinese cooking while delivering. He started out learning the basics but eventually learned all types of Chinese dishes. The most important step though, was to be able to create his own sauces as they are what they say "the ancient Chinese secret".
Skip ahead a few years and Sam is married to Selena. They have a daughter, Sabrina. Sam had been helping Selena run a beauty salon but the business was proving difficult and they began looking at making a change. Sam has always wanted to run his own restaurant and it seemed like as good a time as any to try it out. The initial plan was to open in Vancouver or White Rock. They wanted the restaurant to be on the water. Unfortunately, Vancouver was saturated with Chinese restaurants and the rent was just too pricey. While there was more opportunity in White Rock, the prices were still too steep so Sam started to look elsewhere. He visited a cousin in Kelowna and started to look around the area. He also checked out Penticton but things didn't quite line up in either city. Peachland however, just seemed right. It was nestled right on the shores of Lake Okanagan between West Kelowna and Summerland. It was a small town with no Chinese restaurant and the price seemed manageable. After some negotiations, Sam bought the French bistro on the strip overlooking the lake and the Dragon Lotus was born.
Things have not been easy for Sam and the Dragon Lotus in his first year of business but he loves what he is doing and has no regrets. He and Selena now have a one year old son, Syler along with Sabrina. In the summer it is hard to keep up. It's long hours at the restaurant with Selena helping out with prep as well as being a full time mom. Sam manages everything else including the cooking. There were some growing pains as with any new business but Sam values his customers and listens to their suggestions. He has on more than one occasion altered his menu because of customer feedback. When I sat down with Sam to interview him, I could see his passion for the restaurant and the community. His efforts are paying off as he is the #1 rated restaurant in Peachland on Trip Advisor.
After a couple of months, I returned to Peachland specifically to have dinner at the Dragon Lotus. After all, the story wouldn't be complete without tasting what the Dragon Lotus had to offer. I ordered the wor wonton soup to start with a healthy dose of wontons. Sam makes his own wontons and char siu which is why is why the pork is leaner than you would normally find. After that it was prawns, snowpeas and baby corn, followed by cantonese chow mein. The star of the show was one of Sam's most popular dishes - the ginger beef. I didn't have any room for desert but next time I will have to sample the gelato! Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, Sam has a gelato bar, so it's not all traditional Chinese! I guess I will have to come back in the summer...
So in the beginning, I was looking for some grand tale about how Sam and his family came to Peachland but it turned out to be a simple explanation - Money and location. Not shocking I know. It was simply too expensive in Vancouver and there was an opportunity in Peachland. The view of Lake Okanagan didn't hurt either. So the next time you happen to be driving by Peachland, pop in for dinner at the Dragon Lotus and enjoy the ginger beef. Sam would be happy to see you.