By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
The new University Buffet has many surprises as the only one of its type in the Frogtown or the capitol area. It opened on December 17, 2010 and has fast become a favorite on the eastern end of St. Paul’s eat street.
It did not move into an existing restaurant space was built new, from scratch, in the Hmong Minnesota Professional Building, 225 University Ave W., St. Paul, MN 55103. The 8.49 lunch and 11.99 dinner price offers a lot of choices with the quality as good or better than any buffet around.
General Manager Eric Guo, said the restaurant is part of the Henry Kwok LLC enterprise, which now owns two restaurants in the Twin Cities, one in Moorhead, and two others in North Dakota. Guo, who has worked with other Kwok restaurants and owned his own in Rochester, said he presented the location as one without another buffet this large within at least 3.5 miles.
University Buffet has 12 employees, including 3 fulltime. They are open seven days a week, opening at 11:00 a.m. and closing at 10:00 p.m. and at 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. They also do catering and can deliver large orders.
Guo said there is a great daytime opportunity here with thousands of government, medical and nonprofit workers within walking distance. In the evening he said the diversity of the residential neighborhoods nearby allow them to offer foods to please both groups.
“We rotate the menu every other day to keep it looking fresh for everybody,” said Guo. “We don’t want people to get bored with the menu. We want to draw more people and keep them coming back.”
The menu is as diverse as the clientele. There is something for everyone.
In addition to the familiar Chinese and Mongolian items there is a full sushi bar, with a gorgeous wood frame built by Guo himself, includes sushi grade tuna, salmon and tilapia. For cooked fish they have salmon and snow crab, crawfish and clams, Asian flounder, frog legs, pepper shrimp and squid.
“For Asian people you need to have these items,” he said.
As a buffet they also have the wider mainstream menu to include buffalo wings, French fries and potato wedges, chicken tenders and other assorted western foods.
There is about half a dozen fresh fruits including papaya and lychee. The deserts include the pastries, butterfly cookies and small cakes, but also six flavors of real ice cream in buckets and not mix machines.
The menu is also available for people that want to have specific item that may not be on the buffet that day. It is also for people that want to special order with no salt or sugar or using water instead of oil.
Guo is proud of the details and said they area as important as the food. The restroom has slate tile and does has the look and feel of a high-end restaurant and not the tile look of a fast food place.
For the atmosphere Guo wanted it to be big but also warm and welcoming. The tables and booths can seat about 220 daily and they can seclude a section for about 120 in a banquet or meeting setting.
There are warm colors and lighting. For the traditional flare he turned to the ancient Asian look for the sushi bar and other artifacts here and there.
“Its not just the menu but a combination of many things that gets results,” said Guo.
Henry Kwok started the enterprise with his first restaurant, China Garden, in Rochester about 20 years ago, where Guo said he was working for him. They opened China Garden #2 in Morehead, and then the Grand Buffet in Fargo where Kwok resides today.
Kwok bought land and built a shopping center in Fargo, with the Super Buffet, an Asian-Chinese mixed menu. After a few years of running successfully Kwok turned his attention to the Twin Cities market and Guo did the searching.
Guo now plans to run the restaurant with his spouse. They both come from Fu Zhou, in the Jian Province of China. They have two teenage children.
Contact University Buffet at 651-366-6858.