How Pikesville’s Mr. Chan’s handles the crush on Christmas, its busiest day of the year
Published: December 5, 2012
Richard Ku owned Chinese food restaurants in Philadelphia and York, Pa., before he opened up Mr. Chan’s in overwhelmingly Jewish Pikesville in 1985. When his first Christmas in the new location came around, he thought about closing for the day—he had never done much business in the other locations—but decided to stay open with a skeleton staff. He was shocked when the small restaurant, which has since moved to a new location down the block (1000 Reisterstown Rd.,  484-1100), was packed beyond capacity with diners from the surrounding Jewish community, looking to go out and eat at some place that was open.
As a guilt-carrying Jew, I can attest that Jews love Chinese food year-round. The fact that most other restaurants aren’t open on Christmas just gives an excuse to have one more sit-down with General Tso before the new year. Even Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan referred to our yuletide pastime during her confirmation hearings, when asked where she was one Christmas. “Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant,” she said.
Ku doesn’t really understand it, but he’s not complaining: When we visited him a few weeks before his busy season for some nosh, he was already working on bringing in extra staff.
City Paper: I heard that Christmas is your busiest day. Is that true?
Richard Ku: Oh yeah. Always. We have to mobilize all the relatives and friends to come and help.
CP: Did it surprise you at first when the big crowds started to show up at Christmas?
RK: The very first year, it was a disaster (laughs). Because we didn’t expect it. We said, “Ah, Christmas, everyone will be home. Send everybody home.” We were thinking about closing. Christmas, usually everybody stayed home. But this was a totally different neighborhood. All of a sudden, oh boy. It was the biggest surprise of my lifetime. Oh, wow. The next year, then, we get every help we can get.
CP: How many people do you serve on Christmas?
RK: Regular day, we average 100 people to 150, but for Christmas day, about 400 to 500. We’re just filled up, every seat.
CP: Is there much of a wait for a table?
RK: Oh yeah, for Christmas, sometimes an hour. People get mad, but they understand.
CP: Why do you think Chinese food is so popular among Jews on Christmas?
RK: I don’t know if it’s a tradition or not. It’s just that everybody has the same idea. It’s not religion. Just for that day, it’s like, “Oh, let’s go there.”
CP: Well, we Jews love Chinese food.
RK: Jewish neighborhoods always have a lot of Chinese restaurants, more than any other.
CP: Do you ever get requests for Jewish food?
RK: On Passover, they do ask for matzah, more or less jokingly, not really seriously asking for it. I know, even for Jews, the matzah is a bit painful (laughs).
CP: Yeah, it’s terrible. Sorta like cardboard.
RK: I think if you put some toppings on it, why not?
CP: You should do that! People would love it!
RK: Maybe on Passover, if they’re not joking, it could be a good thing.
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