VERO BEACH – Sue Fen Liang has mixed feelings about the June 15 closing of Szechuan Palace, the restaurant she created with her husband, John, in 1989.
“Everything happened so quickly,” Ms. Liang told Hometown News, describing the rapid chain of events that led to their decision to close. “My landlord just let me know one month before. It happened so fast. I cannot sell the business.”
The Waldo Sexton-era building that houses Szechuan Palace has been sold to the Florida Department of Transportation. The DOT is widening 43rd Avenue so that the road would come right up to the side of the restaurant, losing several parking spots in the process.
The Liangs thought about trying to sell the business or relocate, but decided to retire instead.
“After 30 years, I think it is the time to say bye-bye, and turn off the lights. My husband is getting too old now. He is 71. I am 67. My body is getting old, I cannot work like the young kids anymore. It is too much work here.”
The Liangs have two daughters, neither of whom wanted to take over the business.
“My daughters don’t cook. My oldest one is a dentist in California. My younger one works for Sarasota, she is a State’s Attorney. They tell me it’s time to retire.”
“My daughters are happy for us. Me and my husband are going to travel, go where we want to go, see what we want to see, no worries.”
The couple is from Taipei, Taiwan, which Ms. Liang refers to as Formosa. They intend to visit their old home, together, which they could not do while owning the restaurant.
“I never can travel with my honey, my husband. Every time I go, then when I come back, he goes. We’ll be traveling everywhere, Taiwan first, and then China, my second home. But before traveling, we need to cool down, do a lot of paperwork, make sure I pay everyone.”
If the road widening and sale of the building had not been presented to the Liangs so quickly, they might have continued the restaurant.
“If not for the widening, maybe we would do another year, and change over to a new manager to run my business. I would have the manager run the business for me and keep the business.”
But after pondering that, it became apparent that Ms. Liang was ready for an easier life.
“I don’t want to do it anymore. Too much headache, so very tough. I considered relocation, but there is not a good spot. And to open another restaurant would kill me, just like having another baby. It’s so very hard.”
“I am so happy, but sad. It’s very confusing. First I was so upset, then I thought, it’s not bad. It’s just like when you have kids. They grow up.”
“For the first month after we heard the news, we were not sleeping too well. Too much thinking. We’ve been doing it so long, it will be like a divorce. I’m happy that it will be finished.”
“We created this restaurant, every single corner, even the menu. Deep inside it is very sad, the restaurant will be history. But, it’s OK, I have to accept it.”
Sue Liang knows that she’s had a reputation as a tough boss, and she embraces it.
“They call me Dragon Lady. I say, is that a good thing, or bad thing? To run the business, you cannot be soft. You have to deal with everyone. If you give the employees opportunity, they don’t care if you’re tough.”
As she confirmed she is a “tough lady,” the staff all nodded their heads and laughed.
“I have a good heart but a very sharp mouth. I don’t get personal. All I care is that you do the job right. I do not bother anybody if you do everything right. I love every employee. But if you do wrong ...”
When I mentioned that everyone around Vero Beach seems to know Sue Liang or at least know of her, she and her staff laughed again.
“That’s a shame,” Ms. Liang joked. “I don’t know if that’s good or not good.”
When they came to the U.S. in 1980, both Liangs had restaurant experience in Taipei. Ms. Liang said it was just “good luck” that they ended up in Vero Beach. “I love it, and the weather is just like my hometown of Taipei. Not too cold, and the people here are very friendly.”
Once in Vero Beach, they immediately fell in love with the property that now houses the restaurant.
“We live in a house just three blocks away. My husband was driving by here every morning. He saw all the beauty, but it was never busy. They opened only evenings, and closed early.”
“John looked inside and decided it looked like our perfect restaurant! At that time my husband was manager at Peking Garden on US 1. John came here and talked to the owner. John asked why there were no customers, and he said he only opened at night for four hours. My husband looked around, and he could not wait to call me! He was so happy! He said that is our restaurant! I think I can talk to the owner and he can let us take over! John knew right away that this was the perfect spot.”
Upon retirement, Sue and John Liang intend to remain in Vero Beach. “Vero Beach is my home. We’ve lived here more than 35 years. I love Vero Beach.”
Anyone who has dined at Szechuan Palace knows that the walls are filled with interesting things to look at, from the Sexton-era artifacts to the collection of money from foreign countries stuck to the wall above the cash register. All will stay.
“I’ll just leave it there,” Ms. Liang said. “I will just leave everything and walk out. Maybe if I leave everything here they will turn it into a museum. You know Waldo Sexton used to own this building. I hope the state will turn it into a museum or a community center.”
If you want to visit Szechuan Palace one more time before closing, the last opportunity is June 15.
Szechuan Palace is located at 1965 43rd Ave., Vero Beach. For more information, call (772) 562-7726.