I was discussing with a friend, Hellen, the extraordinary service I was experiencing at a local Indian restaurant I was frequenting at least once per week. The staff was now treating me like family. When the owner, Chandra, is present, I am not even given a menu - we only have a discussion. I am offered items not on the menu, free appetizers and dessert. In short, the experience was now tantamount to eating at home.
Hellen told me of her own recent experience at Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown, where Wilson, the owner, was also personally very attentive to a customer's needs. In Hellen's case, she requires a gluten-free diet, a tough call in a Chinese restaurant, which sadly for her is her favorite cuisine. On her first visit, Wilson sat with Hellen and went over her dietary needs and food preferences. She is now a happy camper indeed and she and her husband are regulars at Nom Wah. She was eager to share her discovery with me. Weekends are quite busy, so we chose a weeknight which gave me the opportunity to meet the owner.
Nom Wah's specialty is dim sum, a Cantonese style cuisine involving small portions of food - various types of steamed or fried buns, dumplings and rice noodle rolls, filled with a variety of ingredients, including beef, chicken, pork, prawns and vegetables. The small portions enable diners to sample a wide variety of food items. The meals are invariably eaten family style. Traditionally, dim sum was served from steamers on trolleys, wheeled through the restaurant. Nom Wah now uses a menu and checklist system where items are checked off and submitted with one's order. Nom Wah also offers a broader menu for those wanting dishes other than dim sum.
Originally dim sum was meant as a snack but now has become an entire meal. It is typically served from early morning until mid afternoon and is often a weekend family outing. Nom Wah is unique in that it serves dim sum for all its operating hours. Tea is a big part of dim sum - the overall dining experience is known as yum cha. Nom Wah has an extensive tea selection as well as dessert items and their almond cookies.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor is a 90 year old establishment located at 11-13 Doyers Street. Nom Wah Tea Parlor first opened at 13-15 Doyers Street back in 1920 as a bakery and a tea parlor. Wally Tang, who worked there since 1950, purchased the restaurant in 1974. Wilson Tang, his nephew, took over the business and renovated in 2010. preserving the vintage look and ambiance, keeping the fixtures and decor of the original establishment with its bright yellow walls, red and white checkered table cloths and antique tea tins. A poster by Milton Glaser hangs in the vestibule. See the Nom Wah website here.
The exterior is a wonderful throwback with its faded red and yellow sign, awning and Chinese characters. Porcelain lucky cats wave from the behind the windows.
Wilson, now 32, comes from a mixed background of finance and food service, working some years for Morgan Stanley and ING Direct. He also owned and operated a bakery in the Lower East Side for 5 years.
Might Wilson be the type of person that really goes the extra mile? On Friday morning, when writing Part 1 of this story, I was curious if I could get Wilson's take on the restaurant service experience I had in the Chelsea restaurant. I sent an email at 7:40 AM leaving my phone number - I received a reply at 7:50. He was leaving for work and on exiting the subway, a few minutes before 9 AM, Wilson called my home and discussed his take on my story. A number of additional emails were exchanged that morning. Here is his email response regarding the Chelsea incident:
To answer your question, as a restaurant owner, I would never have any dispute with the customer. If there was a mistake with the food, I would always comp the item or do whatever they wanted to ensure that they are completely satisfied.
In the restaurant business, it is very important to have repeat customers whose positive experience will spread with word of mouth. It's not worth the few bucks of food cost that can turn the experience negative.
Wilson's policy is that of the fine dining establishment which will comp an entire entree if a mistake is made. Atypical perhaps for a lower priced eatery, but Wilson knows that there can never be too many examples of good management and that it will take many battles and warriors to win the War on Disservice :)