KIERAN ANDREW KHAN
Soong’s Great Wall is an iconic landmark in the city of San Fernando.
Founded by Maurice Soong in 1981, the restaurant is known for pioneering Chinese fine-dining way ahead of the times and has been the place for every celebration from graduations to birthdays and anniversaries. This week, the restaurant re-opened its doors with a complete redesign of its space and new additions to the menu and service offerings; blending the traditional with the modern – a mix that reflects the three generations of the Soong family that continue to thrive in the competitive dining landscape.
“Since my grandfather passed away almost five years ago, there has been the idea to uplift the restaurant in keeping with the times to honour his memory,” Kasi Johnston, the granddaughter of the Soong patriarch and pioneer noted. “My grandfather moved here when he was just 12 years old to join his father who was here at the time. He would first open a snackette before opening his first restaurant, Cherry Blossom. He started very small like many entrepreneurs; then with the help of his wife, my grandmother Brenda, he then went on to open Soong’s Great Wall,” she added.
The vision therefore was to remain familiar to the regular and faithful clientele while also bringing the restaurant in line with international dining trends and the changing needs of the market locally.
“The nexus where traditional meets modern was something we expressed to the architect, Elias El Hajaly, who is originally from Lebanon but currently resides here.
“My mother, Anna Soong Johnston worked closely with him throughout the design process, but he also had a clear vision for what he wanted for the restaurant. We put a lot of trust into him and he did not disappoint. The result is simply something you have to see,” Johnston said.
The space offers lots more natural light, while keeping a cosy charm inside. The painting of China’s Great Wall, from which Maurice Soong drew the name, hangs in the central dining area and is well-placed within its new and modern environs.
“While the exterior of the landmark has largely been left untouched and family favourites like the koi pond have been updated, entirely new spaces like the outdoor deck for dining have been added which really reflects the inputs of all three generations of the family,” Johnston noted. “We want people to be transported into another world when they enter, and give them a dining experience they won’t find any where else. The new deck will offer the same level of fine-dining and the service that Soong’s is noted for but it can also be a place to have a quick bite and grab a few drinks with friends.”
Having recently completed training in hospitality in Australia, which followed her degree and work experience in broadcast journalism in Canada, Johnston joins another third generation member of her family, her cousin Matthew Bouchard, in bringing this new charm and ambience to the southern city’s favourite Chinese restaurant.
“We’ve updated the menu too, but many of the recipes were ones that my grandfather had a direct role in creating and those remain with some contemporary additions to stay current with what people are also doing across the world.”
None of this would be possible however without another one of Soong’s Great Wall’s hallmarks – service.
“We rely a lot on the support and loyalty of our hardworking staff. Some of them have been with the restaurant from even before I was born, so I’m very grateful for them; to learn from them and their continued dedication in providing the best service to our guests,” she assured.
As for the secret to maintaining a successful family-run business, Johnston pointed out that it was simply the result of a close-knit dynamic. “Our family has always been close and having grown up in Trinidad and seeing how hard my grandparents worked and then how much our parents sacrificed, as well as to continue to maintain the excellence that the brand is known for, this is simply our way of continuing the legacy of our grandfather.
"We simply hope to honour his memory and make those who have sacrificed before us, proud. My grandfather loved this country and particularly loved this city and that’s why he invested so much into this community. He saw the value of being good to people and in turn, our customers have been good to us.”
According to Johnston, the family goes far beyond those who bear the name but extends to many generations of customers too.
“We have known stories of couples who had their first dates here and now we have their kids and grandkids coming to the restaurant. We are truly grateful for the people who consider us their family and for calling our place, part of their home and us, part of their families too.”
Soong’s Great Wall re-opened on Monday.