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Not waiting for his ship to come in

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Wayne Luong, owner of Golden Port and the House of Sushi, left work at 11:15 p.m. on November 26, as he would on any other Saturday. Around 2 a.m., the motor in a laundry machine in his employee bathroom started a fire that destroyed the bathroom and damaged or ruined practically everything in both restaurants. Never one to sit around, Luong got busy immediately.

"I heard about a guy who had a fire and waited for the insurance money," he says. "It took a year to settle and the guy went out of business." Not this guy. With some help from his staff, his landlord, other businessmen, the city, and even customers, Luong began digging out and rebuilding, leaving the insurance issues for later.

The damage was extensive. The freezer, cooler, microwave, and all the food were total losses. The firemen, correctly, demolished the wall behind the bathroom, all its fixtures, and the water-damaged kitchen ceiling. All the plates were melted or smoke-damaged, as was the dining room ceiling. With the gas and electricity off, Loung's fish died. And frozen pipes led to ruined hot water tanks. It was, in short, a mess.

It took a week just to gut the place. And there were false starts; Luong tried, for example, to paint the dining room ceiling before realizing the tiles needed to be replaced. And though he has a pile of gratitude toward the many who helped, Luong also talks about seeing "both sides of human nature." An "emergency board up" turned out to be a $500 piece of plywood.

What's the cost of something like this? Luong just paid a $16,000 electrical bill. He's still sorting out the plumbing and contracting bills, but figures it's about $100,000 in all. And then there is the lost business at the most profitable time of year. He figures that at "50 grand, easy." All out of pocket.

He's quick to point out how helpful people have been. His landlord isn't suing over building damage, and more importantly, is extending Luong's lease. The bar owner down the street offered money; so did a customer (Luong turned that offer down on principle). "Lots of people trash the City of Rochester," Luong says, "but to me they were very helpful." That meant help with a massive paperwork process and a whole lot of cooperation from the fire marshal.

When GoldenPort re-opened on December 21, it had been closed just four weeks. It's a long time for a business like this to be closed, but an amazingly quick turnaround from the disaster. What GoldenPort and House of Sushi need now is business.

The twin restaurants offer a high-quality, diverse, and affordable Asian restaurant experience. GoldenPort has pan-Asian fare, specializing in dim sum (appetizers --- be sure to try the leek and shrimp ones). It also has other Chinese food as well as Vietnamese. Luong bills House of Sushi as "neo-Japanese fusion," which means a full menu of sushi and adventurous sushi specials. You can get anything from either restaurant no matter where you sit.

You needn't go out of charity, but Wayne Luong deserves support. He is a true believer in city revitalization, putting his money and effort where his mouth is. With two city restaurants already, he's working on a third at Corn Hill Landing. Patronizing businesses like his will do more for our city than government can (though Luong appeals to the city for more free parking).

Luong's dream is to own five restaurants. Why not more? "One handful is good," he says. "I'm not afraid to try new ideas. If I hear about something good, I travel to see it. In the restaurant business, we're all thieves."

Maybe, but Wayne Luong hasn't stolen his success. He works hard and treats partners, customers, and employees well. No doubt that's come back to him now in his need. But even as he deals with the mess and bills from the fire, he never stops looking forward, and it's the future that gets him most excited.

Golden Port/House of Sushi, 101/105 East Avenue, 256-170/546-2480. Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11 p.m.

Food tip

Forty Finger Lakes wines on the list at an 18-seat restaurant? The Brown Hound Bistro on Route 64, just south of BristolMountain, takes supporting local wineries seriously. Trish Aser has 14 wines by the glass, and an excellent menu you can see at www.BrownHoundBistro.com. (6459 Route 64, South Bristol, 374-9771)

--- Michael Warren Thomas

Michael Warren Thomas can be heard weekends on WYSL 1040 AM. Details and archives available at www.savorlife.com

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