‘It is time’: Kambie Chinese restaurant shuts after 27 years serving ‘friends’

Isma Chiu recalls the time a regular customer’s last request was to have a meal at her Kambie Restaurant on Horton Street.

They were not able to make it in time. So, the family brought the ashes in for a final meal, after the funeral.

Kambie, the Chinese eatery known in London for its stable of regulars, is closing after 27 years and countless servings of oyster hot pot, its signature dish.

“We really feel tired. It is time we do something for ourselves,” said Chiu. “Running a business for 30 years, you work day and night.”

The closing is not COVID-19-related, she is quick to add. The building went on the market in January and the retirement decision was firmed up in February, before the pandemic hit in March.

Her family also owned the Hoo Hoo Restaurant on Richmond Street for four years before opening Kambie, and 31 years of restaurant work is enough, she said.

“We are happy. We planned this two years ago,” Chiu said.

She will stay in London and travel when the virus crisis allows. But first, she’ll be caring for her 87-year-old mother, who has health issues.

“I really just want to spend more time now with my mom,” said Chiu.

Chiu, 58, came to Canada in 1988 from Hong Kong. Her father bought the Hoo Hoo and was its chef, but wanted a core-area restaurant with parking and bought the Horton Street location that became Kambie.

“Our food is different from other restaurants. We have people come from Windsor and Sarnia. We have seen generations here, people came on dates and then with their families after they were married, and now their kids came in with their girlfriends and boyfriends,” said Chiu.

Kambie’s last day of business is Thursday, New Year’s Eve. It is already booked solid with takeout orders.

“Customers want to get as much as they can before we close,” said Chiu. “I treat my customers like good friends. We know each other.”

As for how COVID has affected her business, Kambie’s dining room did not reopen after the three-month lockdown that began in March. Lacking staff to constantly clean and ensure social distancing by dine-in patrons, Chiu moved to pickup orders only. Sales dropped nearly 40 per cent, but it was enough to stay open.

“There was a little pain, but our customers came back in June,” she said.

Kambie’s building at 375 Horton St. was sold to London businessperson Peter Cuddy, who plans a major facelift and renovation. He wants to tear down a building he owns next door and build a large commercial space uniting the two spaces, he said. For an idea of what that may look like, he pointed to the façade of a similar space he owns and renovated at 359 Horton St.

“I always liked that (Kambie) building. We will renovate the two buildings there and lease it out,” said Cuddy.

Kambie’s looming closing has not gone unnoticed by fellow Horton Street merchants.

“We had one of our clients come in and say they are heartbroken Kambie is closing. They have been here a long time,” said Sarah White, owner of Framing and Art Centre.


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