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Chen’s China Bistro embodies Chinese art in paintings, cuisine

By Staff | Jan 5, 2010

Andrea Galabinski Prof. I-Hsiung Ju and daughter Doris Ju at the grand opening of Chen’s China Bistro.

To be the proprietor of a restaurant that embodies both Chinese food and culture has long been a dream of Jeff Chen.

This week, that dream became a reality with the Grand Opening of Chen’s China Bistro in Cape Coral, along with the help of a renowned North Fort Myers artist, Prof. I-Hsiung Ju.

The Bistro is located at 1242 S.W. Pine Island Road, Cape Coral, between Chiquita Boulevard and Nicholas Parkway. It features the artwork of Ju, particularly eight large paintings. They are entitled the “Four Gentlemen” – Bamboo, Plum, Orchid, Chrysanthemum – and the “Four Honorable Livelihoods” – The Farmer, The Woodcutter, The Fisherman and The Scholar.

“Culture is the base,” said Chen. “That is why this art is important.”

Chen has run Chen’s Garden Restaurant, next to Sweetbay on Bayshore in North Fort Myers for the last three years, and has been in the restaurant business for the part 15 years. “For some time Jeff has envisioned a place to showcase Chinese cooking as art, together with other Chinese arts, particularly traditional Chinese brush paintings,” said Ju family spokesperson Doris Ju.

Owner Jeff Chen with wife Anita and daughter Katie at opening.

“I want my local customers from Cape Coral to know the real Chinese culture and food – very good Chinese food – and enjoy the atmosphere.”

Friends and family were invited to a grand opening celebration Saturday, where artist Ju demonstrated his brush painting techniques.

Ju is a retired professor emeritus of Fine Arts from Washington & Lee University, Lexington, VA, and has lived seasonally in North Fort Myers for the last five years.

His work hangs in museums, and he is a sought-after art instructor. He has had two exhibitions/demonstrations at Florida Gulf Coast University among other activities, including teaching art.

“When my father and mother were younger, they travelled and conducted Chinese brush painting workshops all over the U.S., more in Southeast U.S., including Sarasota and Jacksonville more then elsewhere, so many of their Florida students welcome my father’s availability and proximity,” Doris continued. “Some have driven to North Fort Myers to take lessons from him, some driving from Sarasota or Orlando. Other students have come from Virginia, Georgia, Chicago, staying in local motels.”

A family member from a five-star restaurant in China is chef Kenny Chen.

Of the cultural aspect, she added, “The Chinese are proud of their culture – it is the oldest continuous civilization. All the other ancient civilizations are extinct.

“My Dad is 87 and my mom is 86. I probed them about moving closer to the center of Fort Myers to be closer to the Chinese church, or to Sarasota, but they are reluctant to give up their North Fort Myers home which is adjacent to a pond, and in their backyard they have planted bamboos and papayas and kumquats and other plants.

“Their friendship with Jeff Chen and his wife Anita and family, and their friendship with members of the Chinese church are the other reasons for staying put.”

The professor moved to North Fort Myers when his daughter Grace Ju started working for ECHO (Educational Concerns For Hunger) several years ago. When she came in for the opening, she was a guest lecturer at ECHO for the week.

He is currently working on a 20-panel panorama of the Yellow Mountains (Huang Shan) of China. His 16-panel, 72-foot-long “Yangtze River Mural” is at the National Taiwan University of Arts.

“The Chinese decor and art raise the business,” owner Jeff Chen noted. “I used the professor because there’s no type of art work like his in Lee County, and it is difficult to find artwork like this anywhere in the states. It’s real Chinese artwork.”

Of the restaurant, Chen added, his goal is a high quality sit down restaurant with a special twist. “Only this kind of restaurant can highlight the culture, decoration, good food and history.”

The chef, Kenny Chen, comes from a Five Star hotel restaurant from Guangdong, China. He is a family member.

“A lot of family will be here,” Chen said. “We will be serving what is called New York-style Chinese, Hunan, Szechuan and Cantonese makes it that style.”

He said he looked for this type of location for over a year. “It is a fantastic location; it’s my dream location.”

The manager is Theresa Chen, and a friendly bartender Alex Wang. Other family members will be helping there as well, Chen said.

The Bistro features dine in, carry out and a wine bar. There is a full lunch, dinner and wine menu and a Happy Hour Monday through Friday 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Signature dishes are Chen’s House Fish, the Peking Duck and a favorite of Chen’s, The Mongolian Style Chicken or Beef.

The new bistro will be open seven days a week. On Monday through Thursday, hours are 11 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays and holidays noon to 9:30.

The phone number is 458-1818 and the street address 1242 S.W. Pine Island Road.