By Annie Prafcke
Fargo, ND – On Oct. 27th, King House Buffet, beloved Chinese restaurant, will permanently close its doors. Their Oct. 6th Facebook post states the reasons for their closure as “Covid effects” and a desire to spend more time with family. Although owners Bojin and Cindy Chen declined to comment for this article, longtime King House customers are outspoken about their love of this local restaurant.
King House Buffet opened downtown over thirty years ago, considered by some to be a local landmark. Bjorn Strand, a John Deer software engineer living in Fargo, says, “. . . The sign is kind of like a staple of downtown Fargo. It’s kind of like the Fargo theater.”
Strand has been going to King House Buffet for the past nine years. He returns for the friendly staff, cheery interior, and his favorite dish, the peppered steak.
Cassidy Schnase, owner of Replay Games located on 1st Ave N, also says he’ll miss seeing the iconic King House Buffet sign on his walks downtown. Schnase has been eating at King House since he was a kid, a tradition he now continues with his wife and three-year-old son.
Shnase cares about the restaurant so much that on June 24th, 2019, he created the Facebook event “Save King House Supper” after he heard about their business decline following eight health violations reported by the Fargo Cass Public County Health Department in May of that year. The event drew about 500 people to support the restaurant.
“It sucks to see another small business that you care about struggle,” Schnase says. At the time of the event, King House Buffet was at risk of closing. WDAY reported that business was down 66% one month after health reports were publicized, despite the fact that immediate action was taken to address the violations and health officials did not indicate ongoing concerns. Schnase believes many people exaggerated the health violations, which included a discovery of caged pigeons in the building’s basement. Owner Cindy Chen claimed in a May 21st, 2019 Fargo Forum article that the pigeons were merely being stored by an employee for the day. Yet, she received numerous harassing calls and online comments claiming they served pigeon meat, which she said is completely false.
Shaina Stall, who also attended the “Save King House Supper,” laments the bad publicity that so severely hurt King House’s business. “It had nothing to do with, in my opinion, the restaurant and how they handle themselves,” she says. “Someone took one small statement that they heard and then they made it [into] a lot bigger statement and then of course everybody has to bandwagon on top of it.”
Stall will especially miss King House as a family-oriented restaurant. She appreciates that King House is a family-run, local eatery rather than a chain. She has fond memories of seeing the owners’ children helping out at the front and doing their homework at the tables.
Stall has been eating King House’s cuisine for at least fifteen years, and it continues to be a favorite spot to meet her father for lunch. She also enjoys taking her two-year-old son to eat there. She hopes to go at least once more with him before they close.
When asked what she’ll miss most about King House Buffet, Stall responded, “. . . the fact that the place that my dad and I always go to [and] that I won’t be able to bring my child to anymore just won't be there.”
She adds, “Sure we’ll find another Chinese restaurant or buffet that we like that’s just as good, but it’s still just sad.”
Because King House Buffet has been downtown for three decades, it invokes nostalgia for many who have called Fargo home. Matt Ditter now resides in St. Paul, MN, but he started eating at King House Buffet in 2003, during his freshman year of college at NDSU. King House was the main gathering place for his group of college friends, who ate there about once a week, and sometimes even multiple times per day, all four years of college. Ditter recalls the staff’s exceptional kindness. They used to let him and his friends stay for hours at a time and they continue to remember him and his companions after all these years.
Ditter still eats at King House whenever he visits Fargo. He says Fargo has changed drastically in the fourteen years since his college graduation. He notes the rapid expansion in the southern and western areas of the city – new apartments, housing developments, and even a Costco on land that was previously open fields. He says downtown appears different too, noting the seemingly constant building and construction. Yet, in the midst of all of this change, he says King House looks exactly the same as it did in 2003, from its iconic yellow sign to its front entrance fountain to the masks and decorations adorning the walls.
King House Buffet reminds Ditter not only of his carefree college days but also of a smaller, quieter downtown Fargo, before the drastic development of recent years.
“As much as Fargo would change, it was the one thing that we always knew would always be there for us from our memory,” Ditter affirms. “That’s why it is especially sad that it’s closing down because it is like the last vestige of our youth in Fargo is not gonna be there anymore.”
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