CLINTON – After nearly 22 years serving as the friendly, crowd-pleasing owner of China Garden, Lin Ning is set for retirement at the end of the month.
Ning, who began operating the popular restaurant in 1998, is set for her last day at the helm of the ship on Aug. 31, she announced recently. The store isn’t closing, she stressed, as new management will take over the business “sometime in September.” The specifics of the new management aren’t readily available currently, Ning said Tuesday.
Ning is ready to pass the responsibility of maintaining the restaurant to someone new after more than two decades of building a loyal customer base.
“We are always very busy,” Ning said. “I am very appreciative of our customers and am happy that we’ve been able to have a very good relationship with people who come in to eat.”
Throughout Ning’s time as owner, China Garden has not only established itself as a top Chinese food spot in Clinton, but it has also come to be one of many cornerstones in the Clinton community when it comes to giving back.
According to Ning, she and restaurant staff have partnered with both Clinton High School and Fulton High School in Illinois for the past decade in providing food throughout the area for those in need.
The partnerships and relationships formed are just one of many things Ning will miss as the calendar turns to Sept. 1. Working with the high school students has continued to bring a smile to Ning’s face as she not only sees them as customers, but also community partners when the time comes.
“The schools have been such good partners, and we’ve been able to help them with food drives for the past 10 years,” Ning detailed. “It is just one of the things that have kept us so busy over all this time. They have all been a very good group of people to work with.”
As she moves on to other adventures in her life, Ning said she won’t forget any of the memories made at 522 S. Third St. over the past two decades.
Continuing to reminisce about not just the experiences, but also the people involved in them, Tuesday, as Ning stood along South Third Street under the building’s “China Garden” signage, Ning again recalled times when her loyal customers became even more than that.
When the restaurant’s predictable busy rush would hit, her customers would often swoop in to offer assistance as just another way to say “Thank you.”
“I remember when we would be very busy and my customers would clean their own tables themselves to help,” Ning said with a laugh. “The people have been so nice. I’ve learned a lot here, and our group of customers has been with me for almost 22 years, since 1998. I am very thankful.”