The owner of the Mandarin Palace has said that the restaurants recent award of the ‘Best Chinese Restaurant in Ireland’ is for his staff.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ this week at a special Mayoral reception in the Guildhall, Stan Lee said he was “very proud and happy” to win the Golden Chopsticks Award at a prestigious ceremony in London on April 16.
Mayor of Derry and Strabane Maolíosa McHugh hosted Mr. Lee and his wife Lai, along with family, friends, staff and customers for a special reception in recognition of the win in the Whittaker Suite in the Guildhall on Tuesday evening.
“We were totally shocked and surprised, we never expected to win.
“We were up against Chinese restaurants from Belfast and Dublin. Derry only has a small population in comparison so we never thought we would win it, but it was actually the public vote.
“That’s the reason we were able to win it, and we’re very appreciative of the public who voted for us,” he said.
Mr. Lee also paid tribute to his loyal customer base in Derry over the last 30 years.
“There’s been three decades and three generations of customers at the Mandarin Palace, from 1989 right through to the present day.
“I’ve got great memories of birthday parties, anniversaries. There’s a lot of history and a lot of memories built up in the Mandarin. From the old Strand Road where we used to be, to the current site at Queen’s Quay.
“I’m so happy to have so many customers and they’re part of the Mandarin family,” he added.
It hasn’t been an easy few years for the Lees after the restaurant was destroyed by fire in 2015. Mr Lee said it was “very hard coming back from the fire, as they “had to start from scratch.”
“We had to rebuild from the ground up.
“My staff stood by me. They waited for us to rebuild and they were ready to come back.
“Without the staff and my wife Lei, who is actually the unsung hero, there would be no Mandarin.
“She trains the staff and sets the high standards. Behind every good man, there’s a better woman, and that’s the secret,” he said.
Customers of the Mandarin Palace will be used to being entertained by the dulect tones of Mr. Lee, who is a massive Elvis fan.
“I’m an extroverted singer, I love singing Elvis and dressing up.
“My mum used to play the old 45s and 33s of Elvis’ best hits, and it stuck with me as a child.
“In the year 1999 ringing in the New Year I got an Elvis suit made, and from then on Stan PresLee was born. “It’s a good atmosphere at the weekends, and it gets the craic going. Everybody’s happy, I hope,” he joked.
He added that the Mayoral reception was an “honour” and along with his team, he was very happy to receive it.
“After 30 years of hard work and creating employment in Derry for over 50 staff continually, we’re very happy to receive this.
“We’re very grateful to the people of Derry, and to the Mayor,” he said.
Mayor McHugh said Lei and Stan Lee showed great entrepreneurship.
“As a Council, we are proactive in encouraging entrepreneurship and development, and reacting to and coping with the development in the City.
“Without doubt, Stan and Lei, they have been exemplary example of entrepreneurship in Derry.
“I know of the Mandarin Palace, and I also know that there were very difficult times that you came through, and yet you have shown that dedication, commitment and hard work not only to reestablish your business, but to excel to such an extent to win the award of the Best Chinese Restaurant in Ireland.
“I know too that it wasn’t just a panel of judges, but it was a public vote. When you compare our population to that of other cities, quite clearly your reputation has gone far and wide. Your reputation goes well in front of you. I’ve heard so many positive things about you as a couple, and the restaurant. You are a shining example in terms of dedication and entrepreneurship which is needed in this area to ensure that you provide employment, but also the entertainment and enjoyment for the general public,” he said.