By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Cindy Zheng (pronounced ‘chung’) came to the United States from Fujian, China with her parents in 2003, and lived in New York City for about eight years, working in a restaurant owned by relatives.
She had learned a little English in China and attended a bilingual high school in New York.
She married Ben there and they started their family. What they really wanted was to start their own business.
“We saw in the New York newspaper how beautiful this restaurant is,” said Cindy, who is more fluent in English than Ben, at this point.
The Chinese family that owned the Golden Star Restaurant in Sauk Centre wanted to sell. Cindy and Ben answered the ad and in 2011, came to Sauk Centre ready, willing and able to rejuvenate the business.
Ben’s parents and brother came to Sauk Centre with them.
“We cleaned the restaurant and remodeled the kitchen,” said Cindy. “It was a big challenge.”
Golden Star opened in June 2011, and business has steadily grown.
“They came blindly with a lot of faith,” said Jill Abahsain, a Minnesota native who lived in Egypt teaching from 1984 to 2011. “They checked the weather and the schools.”
“We wanted a small town, quiet and peaceful,” said Cindy. “The people here are friendly.”
But there have been challenges other than getting the restaurant into shape to open. Potential patrons did not at first recognize that the restaurant was under new ownership, and there had been some cleanliness issues previously.
The Zhengs have learned the history of Sauk Centre, going to the Historical Society in the library basement. Cindy noted a display of American coins at the American Legion.
“I hear of ‘Main Street’ and that Sinclair Lewis received the Nobel Prize for literature,” Cindy said.
Cindy visited Sinclair Lewis’ boyhood home. She attended a literary event featuring Lewis’ niece, Patty Lewis. The Zhengs were pleased to have Patty Lewis eat at their restaurant following the event.
When visiting Sinclair Lewis’ boyhood home, Cindy noticed a photo of the Lewis family taken when Sinclair was a boy. The Zheng family posed on the same front porch for their own family photo, very pleased to be a part of their new community.
Cindy looks for ways to help others in the community, which included helping emergency responders.
“We took food to fireman after a storm,” she said.
Abahsain had visited her brother, Mark Roberg, in Sauk Centre during the years she lived overseas. When she came back in 2011, she found the peace and quiet so healthy that she stayed.
“Outreach was my first task,” Abahsain said. “I found this wonderful family here in Sauk. Cindy was so busy she couldn’t attend classes but has terrific drive to conquer every challenge. I met with her as a volunteer and we became friends.”
Abahsain teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) for the Adult Basic Education/ESL program in Melrose.
Another challenge for the restaurant was how to be successful in a small town with many eating establishments.
“Ultimately, the quiet people downtown just keep patiently keeping on,” said Abahsain.
Daily specials at Golden Star are listed outside on a sidewalk board. Abahsain recommended the Mo Po Tofu, saying that it is “to die for.”
“It’s fascinating to hear Lewis’ words from the mouth of Swedish immigrant characters being echoed in our newcomers today,” Abahsain said. “I see Cindy as a new element of the fabric of Main Street — and she will survive.”
For more information, call Golden Star at (320) 351-9988.