’Tis the busiest day of the year at Saukville restaurant

While most eateries are closed for dinner on Christmas Eve, Lam’s Chinese restaurant is not only open, it’s packed with people who have made dining there a tradition
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press staff

For more than 30 years, Lam’s Chinese restaurant has kept its doors open for customers seeking a holiday meal on Christmas Eve.

Christmas stockings and other holiday decorations complement the ornate Chinese artwork that line the walls of Lam’s, letting customers know it is ready for holiday business.

“We have our usual customers who have been coming for several decades. For some families, it’s their Christmas tradition,” owner Diana Lam said.

While some area restaurants are open for lunch on Christmas Eve, Lam said her establishment is one of the only places serving dinner until 8 p.m.

“I believe in getting people together. And it’s convenient for them so they don’t have to cook two meals for Christmas Eve and Day,” she said, adding her restaurant will not be open for Christmas Day.  

Customers tell Lam that dining at the restaurant on Christmas Eve reminds them of a scene in the movie “A Christmas Story” in which a family finds themselves at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas after neighborhood dogs ate their holiday turkey. Ironically, Lam said she’s never seen the movie but enjoys hearing the story every time.

“I guess I will have to find the time to watch the movie eventually because I’m constantly reminded about it during the holidays,” she said.

This year Christmas Eve falls on Monday, when the restaurant is customarily closed, but Lam said she is willing to make an exception in order to keep the holiday jolly for customers.

Lam said Christmas Eve is the busiest day of the year for the restaurant. The staff serve the lunch buffet all day and prepare meals from its dinner menu on request. Lam said carryout and delivery services are most popular that day.

“People really enjoy the convenience of takeout and delivery,” she said. “They want to be able to cherish precious moments with their loved ones and not be stuck cooking in the kitchen.”

The restaurant at 470 E. Green Bay Ave. has been in Saukville for 15 years since it moved from its former Port Washington location where Tellos Grill & Café is now located.

Lam said the restaurant moved to Saukville after an apartment fire damaged most of the Port Washington building before Thanksgiving.    

“We were devastated after we lost our building and livelihood, but luckily we were able to find a new home in Saukville,” she said.

Because there is only one other Chinese restaurant in the area, Lam said her business draws customers from all over Ozaukee County.

“Our customers have been coming to us for years because there really isn’t any other place like this,” she said.

Lam met her husband Richard while working at the former Golden Palace in Glendale. Her husband, who co-owns the restaurant, primarily works in the kitchen while Lam manages the business operations and tends bar.

She said she has been working in the restaurant business since she was 16 years old, and started out as a waitress at the former Oregon Inn in Milwaukee.

Lam came to America at 15, when her family moved from Hong Kong.

When she was growing up in Hong Kong, Lam said her family would attend church but didn’t celebrate a traditional American Christmas with wrapped presents around a decorated tree.

Today, her family of three children and nine grandchildren celebrate the holiday with all the bells and whistles, but usually mark the occasion on the calendar after December.

“We’re usually pretty exhausted after Christmas Eve and need to find a time to enjoy Christmas when we’re not busy with work,” she said.

Lam said she usually cooks a ham for the family meal but this year is thinking of trying something new.

“Maybe I’ll make a duck for this Christmas so we can be like the family from ‘A Christmas Story,’ and maybe we’ll finally watch the movie this year,” she laughed.
 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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