SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A beloved, local Chinese restaurant will close its doors for good after nearly three decades in the business after the landlord decided not to renew their lease and rent it out to another tenant.
For the past 29 years, Sampan Asian Cuisine in Sugarhouse’s Plaza 7-21 has been Mingmee Sum and her husband, Peter’s livelihood. As immigrants from Hong Kong, the couple came to the United States for a college education and to fulfill the American dream. She calls Peter one of the pioneers of Chinese food delivery and online ordering in Utah.
“Sampan started as a small space with plastic tables and lawn chairs. Over the years, it has expanded to three times its original space,” said Sum. “We are proud to say that with customers’ support, we never had a year where we were losing money.”
She said being in their 60s, they considered retirement as their 10-year lease was coming to an end this month. She said they found a potential buyer back in December to take over the restaurant’s legacy and were scheduled to close the deal in February.
However that same month, she alleged they were blindsided by the plaza’s management group after they were previously told the buyer was eligible to take over the lease and that the lease could be renewed.
“The lease has already been offered to another party and I have no way to negotiate the lease,” said Sum. “I flew all the way to Malibu, California to meet with the owner in person and he said our restaurant was dated and no longer trendy.”
She went on to say, “I know that legally, they can give the space to someone else. I just wish we had the opportunity to negotiate and at least try to make rent they wanted to increase it. We have always paid rent on time and are the second-longest tenants in this mall.”
In a statement to ABC4 News, Plaza 7-21 Owner Steve Dahlberg disputed Sum’s claims and wrote that her public statements were “false” and “untrue accusations around the ending of their lease and closing of their business.” He wrote in part,
“As the owners of this property, we have had consistent, open, and honest communication with the owner of Sampan Asian Cuisine, Peter Sum. It had been the expressed wish of the owner, Peter Sum, to retire as soon as possible for nearly as long as we have owned the property. His wife, Mingmee Sum, had no involvement in the operations of the restaurant or in the leasing agreement made with her husband until seven months ago. She had no first-hand knowledge of Peter’s communications and is handpicking what she considers facts of the situation.”
Sum refutes Dahlberg’s response and said she took over Sampan Asian Cuisine as president in 2007 while Peter served as manager after they separated from business partners at two other locations. She stood by what she said about her family not knowing about their lease termination before their space was signed off to someone else.
Looking forward, Sum explained they have considered relocating. But since all of their food is made from scratch and their kitchen equipment is built into the building, it wouldn’t be feasible to do so and leaves them with no option but to close their doors for good.
“The equipment costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and cannot be moved to another space. Due to our extensive variety on the menu, it’s difficult to find another home base that would fit all of our needs and maintain our food quality,” said Sum.
She added, “There’s also other factors that impacted our decision to close such as the impact of COVID-19, the broken food chain, and the rising cost in food and supplies.”
Sampan Asian Cuisine’s last day of business is July 26th. Sum said she would love for patrons and community members to come visit one last time.
“We are sad and devastated. But I really want to take this opportunity to thank the community and say I really love you all,” said Sum. “We will have to postpone our retirement plan and work on something else. I hope everyone can follow us on social media in case we have a chance to reopen in the future or carry out our legacy in a different form.”