by Barbara Sherf
The new owners of South Ocean Asian Bistro in Flourtown (in the strip mall containing the Acme) had a special delivery to their growing family for the holidays. Julia Lin, with husband Michael by her side, delivered a 6-pound healthy baby girl, Ava Lin, on Dec. 9.
The Lins, who took over management of the Asian eatery three months ago from a retiring family friend, also have a five-year old son, Daniel. The previous owner had established the operation approximately five years ago.
Before the special holiday delivery, the Lins sat down with Plymouth Whitemarsh High School student Taylor Mitchell, who served as an interpreter and all-around ambassador for the restaurant, for an interview with the Local. Mitchell can be seen on busy weekend nights answering phones and getting the takeout orders out with grace and calm that are unusual for a 17-year-old.
“She is great. We really value her ability to handle the phones and keep customers happy,” said Michael Lin, 35, who did not stop smiling during the entire interview.
The couple had a Chinese restaurant in New Jersey, but the location was not as favorable, and the commute from their Northeast Philadelphia home was more difficult. When they learned that a family friend was retiring, they jumped at the opportunity.
“I only know him as Lio. He is a longtime family friend, and he was older and ready to retire. Once we saw the location, we jumped at the opportunity,” Michael said as Julia, 32, nodded in agreement.
Although the restaurant’s address is 1664 Bethlehem Pike, the storefront is actually far back from Bethlehem Pike and is easily overlooked, but customers continue to flock to the bustling eatery, particularly since it serves a dual cuisine, Chinese and Japanese.
“If someone is a big fan of sushi, but others in the party are not, there is something for everyone,” Mitchell chimed in. “We also do special orders, so if you don’t want garlic or soy or whatever, we will make the dish to order.”
While the Lins met in Philadelphia in 2001 through family friends, they came to this country from southern China in the late ’90s and settled in Philadelphia.
For now, the owners are employing the same basic menu used by the previous owner, but they are adding blackboard specials and analyzing the food items that aren’t in as much demand.
“We have pretty much stopped using the curry dishes and are focusing more on the traditional Japanese/Chinese dishes that seem to be in demand,” Michael said.
On a recent unannounced visit, our Salmon Bento Box ($16.95) contained a piece of salmon that was about a third larger than it was under the old owner and for the same price. It was more than enough to feed two. A new addition is a complimentary, partially peeled orange served as a refreshing dessert.
Amber Cialone, 17, of Wyndmoor, was taking a break from her job at the nearby Acme and had walked over to meet a friend for Shrimp Lo Mein.
“It’s really good,” she said. “They don’t skimp on the shrimp, and there are plenty of fresh vegetables, and the price is right.” A small portion is $6.15, and a large is $8.65.
The presentation has been kicked up a notch by new sushi chef Key Chen, who has 10 years of professional experience making sushi. Watching him make a sushi roll is mesmerizing. He even puts little lights on some plates for additional eye-appeal.
“The party trays go flying out of here,” noted Mitchell.
A coupon mailer touting “Under New Management” along with two coupons has sparked renewed interest in the business. “But really it all comes down to word of mouth,” said Mitchell. “If you have a good dining experience and tell someone, that really helps. Online reviews are also useful, but word of mouth seems to be our best form of advertising.”
Julia, who worked nearly up to her delivery date, works long hours with Michael. She runs the front of the restaurant, and he runs the kitchen. A BYOB, South Ocean is open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. For takeout orders, call 215-836-8188. While the menu and web site are being updated, you can still view offerings and directions at www.southoceanflourtown.com.
Barbara Sherf is a Flourtown “foodie” who has been enjoying food at South Ocean since it opened. She can be reached at www.CaptureLifeStories.com or 215-233-8022.