To say that Wai Louie's lineage is rooted in the restaurant industry is an understatement.
His great grandfather opened a Chinese eatery in Boise, Idaho, in the 1930s. His grandfather eventually settled in San Francisco, while Louie went south to Los Angeles and San Diego, and his siblings branched out into the Northwest.
More than 80 years after his great grandfather began one version of the American dream, Louie can now watch his nephew, Carson City resident Steve Madar, write a different version by managing his new restaurant in Minden.
"I've always loved this area," Madar said last week at the restaurant. "It's not a big city, but it's not lonely either. It's very friendly here, and I just enjoy what I do."
"This is my 16th project," Louie exclaimed, directing his nephew towards a customer in the front. "I like the new challenge, and I like meeting new people."
Louie's Mandarin Gourmet has replaced the old Mandarin Gourmet off Ironwood Drive. The latter closed in August. There is no familial ties between the old and new owners, but Louie wanted to preserve the name that people have associated with good Chinese food in Carson Valley for 15 years.
"We've had good feedback on our food," he said. "People enjoy our style of cooking."
Before he expounded on that style, Louie discussed his background. Originally from Hong Kong, he immigrated to America in 1952, three years after communist Mao Tse-tung had established the People's Republic of China.
Louie spent much of his early life in America in California, learning the industry that would sustain his future. In 1987, he moved to Lake Tahoe to work as a chef at Harrah's Casino. The job lasted 10 years, and in 1995 he took a chance on a restaurant called Louie's, where Super Burrito is now located. He sold the business a year later and would go on to open several restaurants across the region.
Presently, Louie lives in Fernley, where he proudly runs Louie's China Bistro. At age 75, he's a live wire, with enterprising eyes and a subtle smile. He said when the old Mandarin Gourmet closed, he saw a great opportunity.
"The Valley is close to everything," he said. "A lot of people are travelers through here. There are people from all over the place. It's nice to see customers appreciating what we've done."
The restaurant suite itself underwent an aesthetic remodel before opening about two weeks ago. While the interior was being updated, Louie also revised the menu.
"We offer variety; we really can make anything," he said. "We call it Cantonese, from the people of Hong Kong, and the style is different than Mandarin or Szechuan. It's not as greasy or spicy. Our menu offers a lot of seafood, fish and scallops."
Louie said his style of cooking is healthier than other varieties.
"Because of the balance of different vegetables and meats," he said. "Hong Kong-style sauce is much lighter, not so much sugar and salt. You don't need those in excess."
Louie argued that too much seasoning ruins a dish.
"People can say they're eating something bland, but they're so used to salt that their problem has nothing to do with the dish," he said. "When you don't use salt, you actually taste what it is."
Louie conceded that it's difficult to change entrenched eating habits, but he reiterated that his style of cooking can stand alone.
"I'm not a health nut, but I do read a lot of books on Chinese herbs and remedies," he said. "Look at me. I'm 75 years old, and I'm going crazy. I work 12-14-hour days, seven days a week. Confucius said that what comes out of your mouth causes trouble, and what goes in causes sickness, if you're not careful."
Located at 1799 Ironwood Drive, Minden, Louie's Mandarin Gourmet is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
For more information, call 782-1136.