The Bryn Mawr restaurant Yangming, which rode to popularity on an elegant fusion of Chinese and Continental cuisines after its opening in April 1991, is under an agreement of sale and plans to close after business on Feb. 2.
Managing partner Michael Wei said he and his partners had struck a deal with the group that owns the critically acclaimed China Gourmet, a dim sum restaurant on St. Vincent Street near Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philadelphia. Salina Ko, a partner with her husband, chef Ming Fung, said their new restaurant, Jin Ding, would specialize in dim sum and would have live seafood. Ko said it would open in April after changes to the kitchen.
Wei, 77, said he planned to ease further into retirement after the sale. He is still a majority owner of Nectar in Berwyn and CinCin in Chestnut Hill, after selling Mandarin Garden in Willow Grove two years ago. Wei does not run the day-to-day operations at Nectar, he explained, and said that the smaller CinCin was easier to manage.
Wei acknowledged that Yangming’s business — particularly group dinners — had slackened since late 2015, when Radnor Township shuttered the restaurant over a series of sanitation issues.
Management spent two months and about $500,000 on kitchen and dining room renovations for the two-story, 120-year-old building, which has seating for 260 people.
The 2015 closing was a slap to the restaurant’s legacy, which included national honors from publications such as Travel & Leisure magazine and USA Today, and high ratings from Zagat Survey. In 2011, Chinese Restaurant News, a national trade publication for Chinese restaurants, named Yangming the number-one Chinese restaurant in the United States.
When Wei began in summer 1990, he set out to create something different at the former Conestoga Mill Inn, setting up two kitchens to execute the fusion of Continental and Chinese cuisine. Wei, who had plenty of Chinese kitchen staff from Mandarin Garden, placed an ad for an executive chef for the “western” kitchen.
Vince Viola, who had worked in local country clubs, including Radnor Valley, showed up for an interview.
Wei said Viola impressed him, and he hired him on the spot. Though Viola created Yangming’s signature crab cakes, honey walnut shrimp, and various lamb chop preparations, he was quick to credit his colleagues in the Chinese kitchen as well, including chef Muyang Shen and general manager Alan Huynh, both also partners in the business who have worked there from day one.
Wei, meanwhile, said he had mixed feelings about the impending sale. He said he would miss staff and customers, who are “like family to me.”
Viola, who was told of the impending sale recently, said he was not sure what he would do next.
Viola added that even though he is in his early 60s, he regularly works from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and sometimes comes in on his day off.