A Garden in Harlan
Panda Garden in most any other town would not be a "find", but here in Harlan it is. There is a lack of non-fast food restaurants in Harlan because there is not a market for that type of restaurant. Harlan has fast food, McDs, Taco Bell, Rax, and KFC , and then it has Panda Garden. I eat most of my dinners at Panda Garden because they serve fresh veggies. They may be the simple like broccoli, carrots, snowpeas, onions and zucchini, but they are fresh.
Everytime I went in, there is a white woman who waits tables who is deaf, but can read lips. She has been there for a few years. She always gets the drink orders right, and is a friendly constant. I noticed the kitchen staff look Asian, and was a surprise to me. There are virtually no Asian people in Harlan County except for the families that run this restaurant.
I put my order in, and I will admit that I love chicken wings, buffalo wings, wings in gravy, wings on the grill, most any chicken wing cooked up. I had to order some fried chicken wings. The young woman who took my order is Chinese, and is just a charming spirit.
I ordered some white rice because that is what you eat with Chinese food. There was brown rice on the menu, but they don't have brown rice much anymore because there is not a market for it in Harlan County. I also ordered my entree, a spicy seafood stir fry. It was packed with fresh carrots, broccoli and full of huge shrimp and scallops. This was a luxurious dish for less than $10. Amazing! Next time I may ask for less spicy sweet sauce, and then it will an amazingly healthy and tasty dish.
So I pulled the young lady at the register aside, and her name is Joyce. She is Chinese and orginially from New York City. Her cousins, about 14 years ago, were trying to find a shortcut to Florida, and took the KY state highway 421, not knowing the mountainous and tretcherous winding paths they were going to be on, and it really wasn't a shortcut. By this route, they found the town of Harlan in Harlan County, and notice not one Chinese restaurant. On the way back, they found a vacancy in a strip mall with reasonable rent, and Panda Garden was born. The two cousins tried running the restaurant themselves, and figured out that it was exhausting, so they sent a message up to Joyce and her boyfriend in New York, that they could get a steady paycheck if they came to Harlan, Kentucky to help run the restaurant. So they did. What Joyce found was that some people would just walk into the restaurant because they never had seen a Chinese person in real life. Sometimes they came back to try tasting the food too because they never had Chinese food either. For the most part, the town folks were curious, welcoming and then got used to the Chinese restaurant owners as any other Harlan resident. I asked Joyce how she likes it in Harlan compared to New York. She said that they have a good quality of life, she married her boyfriend and have 4 lovely kids, and they own a house. In New York, they could not afford to do that. Joyce said she has so much more in Harlan because the cost of living is so much less than New York. She said that they learn to have fun together as a family rather then always going out like in New York. Joyce also said that there are a few personal services in Harlan, but no spa, massage or facials, etc, and her next business she is going to try is to start a mini-spa in town. She wants people to enjoy the luxury of a mini-spa day, like the women in New York. I wish her luck and it was fun to get some of the back story of the only Chinese restaurant in Harlan County, Kentucky.