We asked Topekans which now-closed restaurants they miss the most. Here's what they said.
For more than 50 years, China Inn served the Topeka community well, offering a community hub for friends and family to gather and munch on crab rangoons, egg rolls, almond chicken and much more.
Loved by many and known for its American and Chinese dishes, the community came out in droves to delight in the made-from-scratch dishes the China Inn boasted.
In 2007, several factors, including food costs, re-construction of the Topeka Boulevard Bridge and a battle with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment over health code regulations, led to the closure of one of Topeka's long-standing restaurants.
To this day, it remains one of the capital city's most missed restaurants.
The Topeka Capital-Journal recently asked Topeka-area residents via a Facebook and a Google poll which restaurants they miss the most.
China Inn's former owner not surprised by results
China Inn, formerly located at 2010 N.W. Central Ave., was one of the most popular answers. According to Dean Yee, who owned the China Inn, that isn't surprising.
"We put a lot of effort into what we did," Dean Yee said. "We worried about our quality, customer service, everything. We were there for the public, and that was our whole life. We had a loyal following, and people would return like crazy."
Topekans also shared some of their best memories from their visits to the China Inn and other now-closed establishments.
From the roses handed out to moms on Mother's Day to China Inn being the first restaurant someone had ever been to, the memories created at China Inn will last a lifetime.
"It was a favorite place to eat with my best friend and her son," one respondent said. "We would sit on the 'club' side, which made it feel more special."
Other restaurants that topped the list included the following.
•"Always a hospitable and impressive place to showcase Topeka to important out of town guests."
Casa Authentic Mexican Restaurant
• "My grandpa always took my cousins and myself there when we were kids all the time. It was his go-to place!"
• "My wife and I went here for our first 'official' date and I even have a scar from a burn from the fajita pan. We loved this place because of the food and the special occasion."
• "My dad and I ate there regularly for lunch. I always knew if he called and said, 'Hey you wanna do lunch?' we were going to Casa."
Rosa's Mexican Restaurant
• "Rosa's was the first restaurant (when it was on 6th) I ate at when I first moved to Topeka in 1993. After it moved to its California location it became the place we met to have dinner with friends. I will always miss Rosa's."
• "My family would go there at least once a month to partake in their buffet. We always bonded over their delicious food..."
Pepe and Chela's Mexican Restaurant
• "My mom craved it when she was pregnant with me. They got it multiple times a week no matter how bad the heartburn got! That tradition continued whenever we could afford going out when I was growing up and was always the place we had birthdays. I’m 30 now and can describe the sopapillas to you as if I just went last week."
• "It has such a special place in my heart not just for the food. It may not have made the list for the city but it’s my number one. Just loved the atmosphere and setup of the restaurant. I would always go there with family and friends."
Other restaurants mentioned in the poll included the following.
• Topeka Steakhouse.
• Por'e Richards.
• Carlos O'Kelly's.
• Furr's Cafeteria.
The China Inn focused on quality and customer service
Wayne Yee and Tony Mah, Dean Yee's dad and uncle, respectively, opened the China Inn in 1951. Dean Yee took over the business in 1982 and remodeled the restaurant, increasing the seating capacity to about 350.
Owning and operating the China Inn, Dean Yee said, wasn't just a job but a lifestyle.
"We've been in the food industry since 1951, and I kind of grew up through the business," Yee said. "We were one of the few restaurants at the time that did everything from scratch. We de-boned our own chicken, cut our own meats, made our own sauces and we created our own recipes."
Yee said the restaurant did its best to represent Topeka well while the community's support played a vital role in the China Inn's ability to keep its doors open for more than 50 years.
"We kind of lost an icon because our restaurant was very contemporary looking, very comfortable and we really represented the community, especially with our food quality and quantity," he said. "We did our job in really helping support Topeka."
Even years later, Yee said, he still has some regrets about closing the restaurant.
"But you know, sometimes you just have to make those types of decisions," he said. "But the public that supported me is great. It's something that we all miss. I know my staff missed the regular clientele and missed the community."