On any night, many UC Berkeley students could be seen entering Shen Hua after a spirited game or while reuniting with parents, ready to settle down for steamed dumplings or hot fried rice.
Now, the Berkeley community must fondly recall such memories following the news that the beloved family-owned restaurant will close its doors Sunday. The news comes as a shock to many who know the restaurant for its delicious food but also as an important staple of the campus experience.
Grant Marek, campus alumni and board member of The Daily Californian, expressed his reaction to the news, saying it is “terrible to see it go.” He described the restaurant as a place where he often encouraged his family to visit when they came into town.
“It was a celebration restaurant. It’s a restaurant where if you were having a birthday or people visiting or a big game and needed somewhere to go, it was that spot,” Marek said. “Every time my parents came to visit, that’s where I would say ‘let’s go.’ ”
Marek recalled celebrating his wife’s graduation from campus 16 years ago. He mentioned that he had eaten with his wife’s parents there at least a dozen times.
Shen Hua’s closure is a familiar story of beloved Bay Area establishments making the difficult decision to close. Two other celebrated Chinese restaurants, Little Shin Shin and Great Wall Chinese Restaurant also closed their doors earlier this year, according to SF Gate.
Little Shin Shin cited retirement as its motivation for the choice, while Great Wall Chinese Restaurant sold the establishment to another owner, according to SF Gate. Similar to Shen Hua, the restaurants were a staple in the community since their respective openings in the 1980s.
As for Shen Hua, Marek added that the closure embodies the struggle of local business owners — desperately seeking new ways to adapt and reach customers in order to increase business in light of the difficulties brought on by the pandemic.
“Restaurants and bars are just not as full as they used to be,” Marek said. “I get it, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less to see it go. People like to have the important places in their life that were a part of their college experience.”
Shen Hua’s owner, Edward Chu, stated in a note posted to the window of the restaurant that the past few years had “posed challenges,” but after “long and thoughtful consideration,” he had decided to move on.
In the note, Chu said he was encouraged by the “resilience” of his employees and customers, despite the adversity.
“25 years is a long time. That’s two and a half decades,” Marek said. “That’s a lot of lives to touch.”