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The Man with the Pan: How Stillwater's China Wok was born

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Michael Zhu came from China to America at 13 years old with a vision: merging the two taste buds of China and America into something new. 

This is how Stillwater’s China Wok was born.

The small but mighty restaurant serves healthy portions of Chinese and American food favorites: General Tso’s chicken, sweet and sour pork, and the chef’s favorite, beef Lo-mein. 

After coming from China, Zhu would spend about 10 years in Fort Worth, Texas; at the time his parents Bijin Chen and Zong Zhu were working at a Chinese restaurant.

“Restaurant life was always busy, cooking was the one of the first things I’ve learned,” Zhu said “I cooked beef, chicken, shrimp, pork, everything.” 

“I never heard of ground beef until I got here, but over here everyone loves beef and chicken” Zhu said. “Most of our ingredients come from the downtown local Asian market.” 

It was busy every day, but eventually the Zhu family knew it was time to make a path of their own.

“About five years ago, that’s when we bought our restaurant in Stillwater,” Zhu said. “We had talent and it was time for us to be our own bosses”. 

With time, it seemed that Zhu and the Stillwater community have both embraced each other.

“I love the Stillwater community, I’m pretty happy here and the people are nice,” Zhu said. “We opened up shop so fast, people still called and asked ‘is this Happy Moon Grill’” Zhu said.

The restaurant has been going strong ever since the family came here, serving hundreds every day and  cooking dishes that bring the taste of China to America.

“It’s hard sometimes, the food smells so good but it’s not for me,” Zhu laughed. “I can’t believe it when people say they haven’t had Asian food before, like where have you been? You’re missing out.”

He has even told stories about daring customers trying spicy Chinese food for the first time. Zhu is a man of spicy food, but will always accommodate to please his customers.

“They enjoy it, but some people aren’t expecting that much spice,” Zhu said. “The next time they order, they usually ask if we can turn down the heat”. 

China Wok, like most restaurants, was impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

“It really slowed us down, we can only do deliveries right now,” Zhu said. “During our lunch and dinner rush, many would decide to dine-in”. 

With dine-in no longer an option, Zhu has moved to popular food platforms like Grubhub to keep the business alive. He warns that even if you’re OK, you could end up infecting someone else. 

The restaurant life isn’t easy, most restaurants close in the same year they open. However, this won’t stop Zhu from becoming a restaurateur in the future. 

“I want to open my own Asian restaurant,” Zhu says, “I’ll start with one and see how that goes.” 

In any kitchen or restaurant Zhu owns, all he needs is a knife, knife sharpener, cutting board, and a wok, to make delicious recipes

As someone who is on the right track, Zhu offered advice for anyone working towards their goals in life.

“Go for it,” Zhu said. “You can’t be afraid of the first step.”