By Kieran McQuilkin and Barbara Bent
Local Chinese restaurant Tong Dynasty has enjoyed an increase in business since the September opening of a karaoke bar inside the establishment, known as “T Bar.”
The restaurant, at 110 S. Jefferson St., has been serving Chinese fare to the community for five years. Students from Washington and Lee and VMI form about 80 percent of all of customers, said owner Hoi Tong. This fall, Tong opened T Bar for his young customers.
Tong said he had the idea for T Bar two or three years ago, but felt that he needed to wait until the restaurant gained more popularity in the community before taking the leap to add a karaoke bar.
He continues to grow a close relationship with his students. Tong said he rarely pays for advertising because he is able to connect directly to customers through Facebook. He has more than 2,300 friends on the social media site.
“It’s a little bit different from a normal bar, because we do karaoke,” said Tong. “We want them to eat, then go drink and do karaoke.” However, patrons do not need to be 21 to enter the bar area.
The restaurant requested a full liquor license a month ago and is still waiting on approval from the ABC. Tong hopes to have a license before December, but for now, T Bar is a “half-bar,” offering beer, wine and sake. Tong’s popular drinks are $2 cans of Rolling Rock beer and his locally famous $8 Sake Bombs, which include a 20-ounce Sapporo, a Japanese beer, and a bottle of sake, a rice wine.
Tong said he spent a lot of money on the bar addition, but he did not disclose the exact amount. He expects the restaurant will begin making a profit from T Bar in about a year. However, Tong says the business is not all about the money; he also hopes to foster a sense of community at the restaurant and bar.
“I’m always thinking about what people want,” Tong said.
Despite the opening of T Bar to Tong Dynasty, other popular night spots in town do not seem concerned with their newest competition. Macado’s, at 30 N. Main St., seems confident that T Bar will not affect business, said the manager, C.J. Wallace.
The Lexington location of Macado’s opened in the summer of 2006 and, according to Wallace, attracts a number of VMI and W&L students. He thinks that by simply continuing the way the restaurant is now, Macado’s will remain unperturbed by T Bar.
“We are having one of our best years since this store opened,” said Wallace.
Scott Stephens, manager of the Palms at 101 W. Nelson St., does not seemed concerned with the new competition either.
“There is plenty of business for everyone,” said Stephens.
Tong Dynasty seats just under 100 people with three full-time employees and a couple part-time. Tong said business increases each year as more and more students learn about his restaurant, and that T Bar will be an essential piece of the business’ future success.
“No matter if I make a little or a lot, I’ll be a winner,” he said.