By: Katy Wong – Ethnic Seattle
October 15, 2015
There is no doubt that small business owners often face many challenges, and keeping a restaurant in good shape within the family could be even harder. For 17 years, the owner of Magic Dragon Chinese Eatery have overcome many obstacles and continues to shine in Seattle’s Central District neighborhood.
“This restaurant saved my family, raised my kids, and it even gave me some room for me and my wife to go on vacation,” said Jae S. Oh, the owner of Magic Dragon Chinese Eatery.
Oh immigrated to Seattle in 1980, and went to Shoreline Community College for mechanical engineering. Like many other people, Oh didn’t work in the field he majored in. In fact, he worked in various industries before he became a master in Chinese cuisine. He was a real-estate agent, a Seattle Times Newspaper deliveryman, a teriyaki shop owner, and many more.
Magic Dragon Chinese Eatery was actually his second restaurant. He opened his first restaurant a year after he immigrated to Seattle.
“First year is really hard because I have no experience, nothing,” said Oh. “As time goes by, I get more experience. From the second year onward we received good responses from the customers.”
Business was doing well until the landlord declined to renew his lease, he was 23-year-old at the time.
“I don’t know why I didn’t relocate somewhere nearby, I just gave up on the restaurant business and did a small grocery store for four to five years,” Oh said.
After working in many other places and industries, Oh used his savings to open the Magic Dragon Chinese Eatery, which is a huge success today.
“Back then I was the only restaurant in this intersection, so I did a good business,” Oh said.
Oh said his business was impacted by the New York Terrorist Attacks in 2001, and the mortgage crisis in 2007. However, he managed to send both of his children to college.
In this little Chinese restaurant, Oh managed to work closely with his workers. Customers can easily sense the deep bond they have with one another. Oh especially appreciates his cook that has been working for him for over 15 years.
“He is like my brother, he knows how much values [Magic Dragon] used to carry, and how my sales decrease throughout the years.” said Oh. “He told me that he will retire when I retire.”
At 56-years-old, Magic Dragon is probably Oh’s last stop before retirement. However, his road to retirement might not be as peaceful.
Since June road construction from Jackson Street to Cherry Street has been hurting his business. The construction will continue to early 2016.
According to Maribel Cruz, the Project Communications Lead for Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), the construction includes modifying lanes on the 23rd Avenue, improving sidewalks, street lighting, traffic signals, and more.
Meanwhile, the construction that started this June has led to several weekend closures of the intersection near Magic Dragon.
“All of the businesses along 23rd Avenue and Jackson Street was impacted,” said James Kelly, small business advocate at the City of Seattle.
Kelly is a construction impacts assistance for Access Seattle Initiative, which aims to provide business and community support, traveler engagement, and construction coordination.
“One thing I try to do is to make sure that people can get to their place, so we put up signs that said “Businesses Are Open”, said Kelly. “The second thing we did for Magic Dragon and other businesses is that we put advertisements in the Stranger newspaper.”
One of the biggest hope for Oh is to be able to reduce their rent because of their loss in revenue, however the results is unsuccessful.
“We talked to their landlord about trying to negotiate the rent because of the revenue, but we were unsuccessful about Wine Gardeners to have agree to lower their rent.” Kelly said.
With all the economic and financial realities baring down, Oh is still optimistic and is hoping to continue his business operation in the neighborhood for a long time.
“How can I leave this area. I spend all my golden age at the Central District,” Oh said. “I try my best to pay back to my customers. As long as I stay at the restaurant, it is time to pay back with the quality of food, the portion of food, and heart.”
“So just surviving, stick in your restaurant,” said Oh. “Surviving is the only option for me.”
Offering more than 10 different Chinese dishes, Oh said two of their customer’s all-time favorites are General Tso’s Chicken and Szechuan Chicken.
Magic Dragon Chinese Eatery is located at
306 23rd Ave S #2, Seattle, WA 98144