ANDERSON — When Xing Zhou emigrated from China at age 13, he and his family struggled to adjust to their new home.
But they knew how to do one thing well and that was providing high-quality Asian food.
Whether it was in San Francisco — their first stop — or Iowa, Zhou’s family always strove to be the best in the restaurant business. Now, at 25, Zhou is following in his parents' footsteps by running his own restaurant, the Lantern House, off Scatterfield Road.
However, Zhou isn’t stopping at being the best Asian-centric restaurant; he wants to have the go-to place in Anderson.
“My vision for this place is supposed to be the best restaurant,” he said. “Not only just the (best) Japanese, Asian or Chinese restaurant in people's minds but the best restaurant where people want to go on a Friday night. I want them to think of Lantern House.”
He’s lived in Anderson for five years now and doesn’t show any signs of leaving anytime soon. He hopes to expand to other cities around Indiana. He has Noblesville and Greenfield on his short-term radar.
Zhou learned almost all he knows about the restaurant business from his parents. He remembers spending every afternoon after school in the kitchen, helping them with prep work and cooking. Now, they come by and help him as needed.
When he wasn’t helping out in the kitchen, he was doing his best to learn English.
He recalls struggling in classes, not fully understanding what was being taught, and learning how to speak and read English by watching television.
“It was difficult not being able to read, not being able to talk and not being able to communicate,” he said. “That was the hardest part for me. I would sit in a classroom, not knowing what’s going on or what they’re talking about and that was the hardest part for me.”
Now, the hardest part for him is the daily grind of running his restaurant. According to Zhou, he’s setting himself apart by putting in the extra work to make everything fresh in the morning before he opens at 11 a.m.
According to Sharon Henson, the general manager of Lantern House, putting in the extra work is what will set them apart from competition.
“Our food is fresh,” she said. “No imitation meats and veggies, cut every day, along with 40 sauces (that) are mixed every morning. The crab folded hand wontons, egg rolls, spring rolls and dumplings are all handmade and folded from scratch. We only cook with the highest quality meats and products.”
Henson runs the front of the restaurant and is generally the first person customers see when they come in. She worked with Zhou and his family for years prior to the opening of Lantern House, including waiting tables at Zhou’s parents' previous stop.
Getting into the restaurant business wasn’t always in the cards for Zhou. Once he was done with school, he wanted to escape the life he’d been living and try his hand at something else.
His first stop was in sales at Penske Honda off 96th Street in Indianapolis. First he was an assistant before working his way into the sales department and later into internet sales.
Though he succeeded, he could never escape the urge to get back into a kitchen. It felt as though he might as well stick to what he’s good at.
“I had been (cooking) for too long and it became a part of me,” he said.
If you visit Lantern House, one of the things you’ll see that is different from many restaurants in the area is the open kitchen.
It’s not the typical open kitchen you see in some restaurants, where patrons can see chefs cooking meals as they sit. Instead, the kitchen is visible from the outside of the restaurant in the hopes of attracting walk-up diners.
Zhou believes being able to see the cooks work enhances the restaurant experience. He hopes to enhance that experience as he continues to grow and expand Lantern House.
Follow Dylan Trimpe @Trimp3 on Twitter. Email him at email@example.com, or call 765-640-4840.
4708 Scatterfield Rd.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.