Ann Lee's sister Sandy opened Jade Garden on Bryan Street in East Dallas in 1982. Ann went to work there one year later and has been there almost every single day since -- except for Thanksgivings, of course, the only day each year the unassuming Chinese restaurant took a day off.
But come Friday night, Ann Lee will be out of a job: The eatery in the old Dairy Queen catty-corner to Jimmy's Food Store is closing. The new owners want a rent Lee can't afford.
"They just don't want us to stay," Lee said after lunch service on Thursday. "We tried. We've been here longer than anyone. Longer than Mai's, less than Jimmy's. Thirty-four years. It's so sad."
Perry Guest Company recently bought the property, including next-door Mai's, out of foreclosure. Perry Guest's Neal Morris said Thursday that Jade Garden's lease actually expired at the end of November, and that the real estate company gave her time to find a new home. That did not happen, and now time has run out.
"We talked to them about market rents, and the economics just didn't work," Morris said. "This is the worst part about redeveloping any property. It's the absolute worst. It really just pulls on your heartstrings. I wish I had another building across the street I could drop them into, and they would never have an interruption in business."
Jade Garden was, once, the center of a neighborhood where Asian immigrants settled in the late 1970s and early '80s. Even now, its menu -- filled with such staples as lobster with green onion sauce, green mussels in black bean sauce and an orange chicken the Dallas Observer once called the best in the city -- is in English, Chinese and Vietnamese. Mike DiCarlo, who owns Jimmy's with brother Paul, can remember how, in the early 1980s, the restaurant was packed on weekends with wedding banquets.
"A lot of the neighborhood people are really connected to it," he said.
That includes Jeff White, who runs the meat market at Jimmy's. He grew up around the corner from Jade Garden, and was introduced to Chinese food there. He has been a regular ever since.
"That is literally one of the best Chinese restaurants ever," White said Thursday. "When she first told me they were closing, I said, 'Are you freaking kidding me?' I can't even put it in words what it meant to me."
Morris said Scott Jones, formerly of Screen Door and Cafe Italia, will take over the Jade Garden location with a new eatery called Heirloom.
"We didn't want to put in some chain restaurant or something like that," he said. "It is East Dallas, and we want to respect the local culture."
Which, of course, does nothing to soften the blow for Lee, who will spend Saturday packing up and moving out.
"It's not easy," she said. "It's sad. So sad."