This story was originally published in October, 2021:
The year was 1987 and Peachland was kind of dead, says lifelong resident Richard Smith – but he was hoping to get his home town going again.
“Brenda Mines was slowing right down, and the town really wanted to get more visitors coming in,” says Richard, who at the time, was on Peachland’s tourism committee. A bunch of ideas were bandied about, but rather suddenly, it seemed, Richard had an idea. At the time, he was a high school art and metalworks teacher. The family was busy – his kids, Devin and Whitney were in elementary school. There was an old general store downtown, full of historical significance, but the previous owners went bankrupt and left pretty much everything inside.
Richard and his wife Sheryl looked at the property – which now houses Peachland Sushi – and decided it would make the perfect Chinese restaurant.
Wait – what?
“I can’t cook Chinese food, and in fact, I don’t know anything about cooking,” says Richard, who met me for a coffee at Bliss on a crisp October morning.
“Also, I was not a businessman. I was a teacher. But I was involved in the community and my family has been in Peachland since 1910. I just wanted Peachland things to be successful.”
He had a clear vision for his soon to be opened Chinese Laundry restaurant.
“I wanted it to be a dynamic part of town,” he says, turning a page in the photo album he brought along. A placemat explained the premise:
“The Chinese Laundry restaurant honours the Chinese heritage and development of British Columbia, bringing the unique decor of an early laundry to a fine, traditional Chinese restaurant.”
A laundry used to run behind the restaurant (Peachland Dental is there now), and Richard wanted to recognize the early labourers, railway workers and others who arrived here from China. He also wanted to introduce the concept of Chinese fine dining – loads of fresh vegetables and “the clever combination of flavours and aromas,” (I’m going off the placemat again).
The only problem? This would-be restaurant was a mess – and he needed a Chinese cook to run the place.
That part actually wasn’t too hard – Frank and Melany Jung had a Chinese restaurant in Summerland. Richard approached them – would they be willing to work in his restaurant, and if so, he would renovate the apartment above the kitchen and they could have a place to live with their young kids, too.
It took some convincing.
“They didn’t like the idea, because they felt people would come in looking to do their laundry,” says Richard, chuckling at the memory.
But they eventually agreed, and the renovations began.
That’s actually a story in itself, says Richard.
“You see, there was a couple there, a man and a woman who were squatting in the apartment upstairs. They weren’t supposed to be there.”
A few knocks on the door and polite requests didn’t work, and neither did a court order. And when the RCMP arrived, order in hand, the unwelcome inhabitants didn’t really care about that either.
Richard had a restaurant to renovate – and one day, he ran out of patience.
“There was a walkway up to the second deck and that was for the upstairs apartment, you couldn’t get in from the inside of the building, only from the outside. So the lady came to the door and I said ‘you’re supposed to be out of here’ and I grabbed the door and I ripped it right off the hinges. And so now there’s no door on the place. I had a truck down below and I threw it down there.”
The woman ran away, down the stairs and up the street.
“Then, I hooked my truck up to a chain onto the corner of the stairs and I pulled the whole balcony and all the stairs down into a big pile of lumber in the alley. And of course they couldn’t get home. There were various people who stood in the alleyway, watching the whole thing. They clapped. I put the door, the deck and the stairs in my truck, drove to the dump and threw everything out. And that sort of clinched it. They couldn’t get up into their place, so they left.”
Eventually, that apartment was renovated to suit the Jung family, and Frank – who would become a very well-known chef in the Valley – set to work.
“We had a huge job to do,” says Richard of the three or four months spent prepping the place.
“There was no walk-in cooler, there was no kitchen, actually. In the back, we changed it all around and put a whole row of gigantic woks with gas burners. We put in washrooms, which are still in the same place. It was a huge job.”
Opening day was August 6, 1987 and the Jungs and the Smiths gathered at the entrance to the new Chinese Laundry restaurant (complete with hand-carved sign). Richard and Sheryl’s kids cut the shirt-shaped ribbon, and the first customer was none other than Jean Todd, the original owner of Todd’s RV.
It was a great little spot, says Richard – lineups outside the door on some days. And looking through the photo album he lent me for this story, there’s lots of smiling faces, people seated with friends and family. You can see the elevated dining area that’s recognizable to those who’ve been to Peachland Sushi (and the other restaurants it’s been over the years).
“It wasn’t me who made it successful,” says Richard.
“It was the Jungs. I just helped them be successful. After three years, they bought the place from me.”
The Jungs ran the Peachland restaurant for another 20 years – and they expanded, too. There were Chinese Laundry restaurants in Westbank, Rutland, Big White, Penticton and Osoyoos. When I Googled Frank Jung, sadly, I found he passed away in September of 2019. He left behind his wife Melany, children, grandchildren and many friends, some of whom wrote some really nice words of condolence on his online obituary.
As for the Smiths? Richard’s son, Devin must have liked the taste of restaurant life. As a teenager, he started working at another local restaurant, the famous Gasthaus. It was back when original owners Werner Fischer and Joerg Hoerath had just taken over the original building, which was referred to as the Log Cabin (now known as the fine dining portion of the restaurant). It was before the expansion you see today, and Smith said Werner, especially was a big influence on Devin.
“Werner eventually moved him up to prepping food, and by the time he was in Grade 12 they showed him how to make the most common menu items, and no problem, he could do that. He’s smart. And when he got out of Grade 12, they sent him to Germany for a few weeks to go to all these different restaurants and that was really neat.”
A few years after that, Devin was asked to become a Gasthaus partner.
“We told him ‘we could either pay for you to go to university, or we can pay for you to have a partnership in this restaurant.’ He really liked Werner, so that’s what he did.”
A few years ago, Werner’s health was failing (he passed away in March, 2018), and Richard said they decided to build a liquor store. The licence was for anywhere between Summerland and the bridge, and they chose what they thought would be a perfect location. Cask and Barrel is at the corner of Hwy 97 and Westlake Rd., beside Fabricland. And Devin is the owner.
“He wanted to link the name to the Gasthaus somehow,” Richard says.
So, what does Richard think of the restaurant scene in Peachland today? Well the Gasthaus is different, that’s for sure (it’s under new ownership and reviews are mixed). He likes that the Blind Angler is a restaurant with a name directly tied to Peachland’s past. And that’s a story for another time.
“I’m an artist, but a different kind of artist,” says Richard about the ideas he has for this town.
And hopefully, we can hear more of them – Richard and I agree we should do coffee again!
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