Ann Arbor’s restaurant scene gets unnervingly quiet on Christmas, when most restauranteurs and their employees take the day off. That makes it the biggest day of the year for Chinese restaurants.
Evergreen Restaurant in Plymouth Mall has opened at 11 a.m. every Christmas for the past twenty-seven years and has a steady stream of customers until closing at 10 p.m. “We are very busy,” says Lin Zhu, Evergreen’s business coordinator. “We all work really, really hard. Even the carryouts and deliveries are bigger. We notice many customers order enough dishes for entire families.”
Panda House in Maple Village is also hopping. “Moms don’t want to cook on holidays, and Wendy’s and McDonald’s are all closed,” explains owner Jenny Zhang.
Immigrant Jewish families were “doing Chinese” on Christmas as early as 1899, according to a report that year in a New York City newspaper. An atlantic.com article last year pointed out that Jews and Chinese were the largest non-Christian minority groups living in New York’s lower east side at the time. The other major immigrant groups–Irish, Italians, Germans, and Mexicans–all celebrated the holiday. And since Chinese cuisine is virtually dairy-free, it let Jews experiment while observing the kosher proscription against mixing meat and dairy at the same meal.
Today, Ann Arbor’s Chinese restauranteurs see a cross-section of customers on Christmas, including Jewish families, Asian families, and students who are too far away to go home for the holidays. Having enough food to feed them and enough staff to serve them takes planning and resourcefulness.
After an uptick in Christmas dining over the past several years, Evergreen now encourages reservations on that day. They plan their orders carefully in advance so they do not run out of provisions at a time when all their suppliers are closed. At Panda House, Zhang suspends her usual delivery service that day–and corrals additional family members to come in to work and help out with the holiday onslaught.