The following is a story from Sun Journal:
At Lotus, Auburn’s newest restaurant serving Chinese and Japanese cuisine, Jim Wu hustles behind the sushi bar preparing hamachi and magura, while brother George meets guests and manages the front end.
It may seem as simple as two siblings owning a restaurant, but for the Wu brothers it’s been a lifetime of preparing, especially since they were born half-a-world apart.
Jim was born in Taiwan. His parents, who wanted nothing but a better life for themselves and their son, immigrated to the United States.
“As many families did back then, I remained in Taiwan with my grandmother until they could come back for me. The foundation for my love of preparing food began in my grandmother’s kitchen. She was the best cook and I learned all the traditional dishes, like pot stickers, scallion pancakes and mapo tofu.”
Three years later, with Jim still in Taiwan, George was born here in the States.
When Jim was around eight he was finally reunited with his family and became part of the American dream his parents had created, working in or operating restaurants throughout the country. Their journey began in Texas, continued to the New England area and ended up in Auburn.
“I was a typical kid being raised by immigrant parents running a Chinese restaurant. I had to take care of all the restaurant’s guests since I was a child. These guests have now become family. I enjoyed watching their families grow,” said Jim.
Jim continued learning every aspect of cooking, even recently returning to Taiwan and discovering new techniques for eliminating monosodium glutamate and making healthier dishes without losing flavor. George, meanwhile, continued his education with a degree in hospitality and business management from the University of New Hampshire.
Fast forward to today and it seems only natural they combined the skills they both learned over a lifetime and opened their own restaurant, in partnership with Jim’s wife, Yuki.
By working side-by-side with their parents in different aspects of the business over the years, the brothers learned that there are three main components to owning a successful restaurant.
“The first two are great tasting food and a great value,” Jim said with a smile. “And that is just what we hope to achieve here at Lotus.”
“And last, but not least, is great service,” added George. “It is our culture to be hospitable. I learned very quickly, even as a child, that it was the key in maintaining success. People like that you remember their name, their favorite dish or the table they prefer to sit at.”
The interior of Lotus is modern yet reflective of Asian culture.
“I’ve done a lot of backpacking in Asia,” explained George. “So much of the artwork for the restaurant has been brought back from my travels and some of the hand-painted artwork came from local artisans.”
The menu is quite extensive — mostly Chinese and Japanese, complemented with touches of Thai and American favorites. The aroma of orange chicken, moo goo gai pan and pad Thai will let you know the second you walk in that Lotus will satisfy just about any taste bud.
Luncheon specials offer a variety of options. Served with a choice of rice and soup, guests select one main dish and a mixture of sides, such as chicken wings, egg rolls and chicken teriyaki.
“We also have some unique dishes,” said Jim. “Like hot and sour seafood soup, coconut shrimp and California tempura rolls that are quite exceptional. And . . . everything is made fresh to order.”
Besides the full menu, Lotus offers an impressive buffet, including crab rangoon, General Tso’s chicken and eggplant with garlic sauce. There is also a sushi/sashimi bar as well as a buffet with an assortment of American food.
“It’s quite a learning curve to offer variety on the buffet,” said George. “We have switched out and experimented with many dishes — including our variety of sushi, Chinese classics and some American dishes — to see which our guests like best. We receive requests to put new items on and some previous items put back. The buffet keeps it interesting for our guests and, best of all, there is always an opportunity to try something new, yet enjoy our classic and favorite dishes.”
And who doesn’t like dessert.
“Our culture is not so much about sweets, so our desserts on the buffet are mostly American,” George said. “Most of the cakes, pies and turtle cheesecakes are made on site. . . . Favored among many guests is a self-serve freezer in the restaurant full of assorted flavors of Gifford’s ice cream.”
Lotus also caters to special diet restrictions.
“We are only a request away,” explained Jim. “We cater to vegetarians and even help ladies with their Weight Watcher points. We have a gentleman that comes in every Friday and we prepare him pepper steak with no salt.”
For those wishing to enjoy their menu at home, Lotus offers take-out as well as delivery service.
“We also offer banquet services for private functions and fundraisers,” said George. “It’s all about helping the local community and building relationships with our guests. We recently held one fundraiser that did so well we gave back a portion of our profits to the event.”
Celebrations are taken very seriously at Lotus.
“We can make almost any occasion memorable,” said Jim. “For example, on birthday celebrations we use our handmade, 18-inch Pasi gong from China, sing happy birthday and provide a special dessert. We try to have every experience at Lotus a special one.”
Will there be a next generation to continue the family tradition?
“We hope so,” said George. “Jim has two children, Howie and Jie Lin, and we are hoping they will learn and work here at Lotus as they get older.”