By Elisia Alonso
Two gas burners are roaring with fire as massive black woks muffle their screams. Sliced scallions, diced onions, hot chili peppers, and oil are tossed into the reservoirs from the gentle hands of an old Chinese cook. General Tso’s sauce is ladled with a combination of spices and brought to a broil. Deep fried chicken straight from the fryer is drowned by the brown lava and garnished with fresh broccoli. The smell of egg-fried rice and soy-based sauces permeate the room.
Orders are shouted back and forth in Cantonese. Two orders of General Tso’s chicken to Hadley Hall. An order of almond chicken (with no almonds) needs to be delivered to West Main Street in 10 minutes. The new delivery driver forgot to bring the change bag on his route. It is 2 a.m. and the phone rings.
“Buddha’s Belly this is Andrew speaking… You need me to pick up four deliveries for Spice?”
Andrew Lum, 34, is a Kalamazoo restaurant owner of both Spice Rice Asian cuisine at 525 Burrows Road and Buddha’s Belly Asian cuisine and sushi bar at 2706 West Michigan Avenue in Kalamazoo. His third restaurant, Wild Ginger, will be opening in Portage in late spring.
Managing, marketing, and expanding family businesses have been a part of Andrew’s entire life. Making a business successful was engraved in his DNA.
His father, Lee Lum, and mother, Lily Lum, emigrated to the U.S. from China in 1971 at the ages of 27. They opened New Moon Noodle Company in Battle Creek. New Moon Noodle has since been successful in distributing noodles to various grocers, markets, and Chinese restaurants across Michigan and bordering states. Both Lee and Lily are now 71. They continue to work for New Moon Noodle and their son’s expanding restaurants.
“What better way to support the noodle company than to open restaurants that need noodles?” says Andrew, 34. “We opened up Spice Rice in, what? 2004? I always knew I wanted there to be more than one.”
When it comes to managing his business he does it all.
Andrew delivers, answers phones, takes and packs orders, counts his own money bag, and abides by the “closing duty list.” The vibrating notifications on his phone hum reminders every few minutes. He looks at his missed calls and stuffs his BlackBerry into his pocket. His hours are long and the schedule is always subject to change.
The silver wings of his 2006 Toyota Corolla swing open on their hinges with little force. The seatbelt warning dings its annoyance for what seems like forever, but no seatbelt will be worn by Andrew. He has to get out again in two miles.
Number of times being pulled over: Countless.
Number of times being ticketed: Countless.
Number of points on his license: Right now? 7. It will be zero in September if all goes well.
The silver bullet whizzes into Spice Rice’s parking lot as Andrew exits before the parking gear has settled.
The familiar fried scents at Buddha’s Belly are comparable to those at Spice Rice. Lily Lum, 71, is sitting at her small table set apart from all other tables. She manipulates wonton skins into crescent moon shapes and fills their centers with a cream cheese and imitation crab mixture. She rests her head in her hands in a position that avoids the flour on her fingertips.
Lee Lum and other Chinese cooks are in the kitchen shouting – but they’re not shouting. They laugh and talk loudly all the time. The dialect demands for grinning, even if the content is no matter to smile at. Various dishes are tossed in the woks and placed in black to-go containers.
Andrew grabs four orders and loads them into a clearly advertised Buddha’s Belly delivery car and takes off. After making deliveries for 10 years, he takes pride in knowing the most time efficient routes to any destination in Kalamazoo.
The confusion on the faces of customers when he delivers food ordered from Spice Rice in a Buddha’s Belly car is something that Andrew has gotten used to. “I think it’s going to be hilarious delivering Spice Rice food in a Buddha’s car wearing a Wild Ginger polo,” says Andrew.