During the dinner rush hour Wednesday, the steel gates at Hong Heng, a Chinese takeout restaurant, were shut and the trash can in front was stuffed with yellow police tape.

Hours earlier, the owners of the neighborhood eatery at the corner of 42d and Ogden Streets in West Philadelphia had been held hostage by three gun-wielding men in their early 20s who police said lived in the area.

A police negotiator made contact with the barricaded robbers and persuaded them to release the three hostages before surrendering about 3 a.m., police said.

"They are kind, gentle people," Mary Day, a frequent customer who lives on 42d diagonally across from the restaurant, said of the owners.

One of the owners, whom police did not identify, had gone out to smoke a cigarette while his wife finished cleaning up the restaurant kitchen around midnight. He was approached by a man in his early 20s who demanded he go back inside, police Lt. John Walker said. They were then followed by two other men who demanded money and struck the male owner several times in the head with a pistol. The men also went to the second-floor apartment looking for money, Walker said.

A passerby who saw the men enter the eatery thought the situation appeared suspicious and notified police.

Police were still investigating Wednesday evening. The three suspects would likely be charged Thursday, Walker said.

Contact Claudia Vargas at 267-815-1953, cvargas@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas.