British Columbia

Chinese restaurant in southeastern B.C. destroyed by fire after more than 30 years in business

May May Restaurant's entire kitchen, its cooking equipment and the dining room that seated more than 100 people were destroyed by the fire, which is being investigated. 

Cranbrook's May May Restaurant had been serving takeout only since March due to COVID-19

May May Restaurant was destroyed by a Tuesday fire in Cranbrook, B.C., after more than three decades in business. (Tony Zhu)

A Chinese restaurant that served Cranbrook, B.C., for more than three decades was destroyed by fire Tuesday afternoon, along with another nearby business. 

May May Restaurant's entire kitchen, its cooking equipment and the dining room that seated more than 100 people were destroyed by the fire, which is being investigated. 

The restaurant had changed hands at least a couple of times during its more than 30 years, but Tony Zhu, who has owned the May May Restaurant with his family since 2014, says it was always a favourite spot for people in town. 

"When people come in and they are having our food, they always give us a nice happy face and good words, saying they love it so much and our dumplings are so good," Zhu, 28, told Sarah Penton, host of CBC's Radio West

"The other restaurants [in Cranbrook] close on Monday, but we never. We just open straight seven days a week. And then now we don't have a place to go," 

The Zhu family, originally from Enping of China's Guangdong province, took over the Asian eatery from previous owners Ken Cheung and Steve Liu.

Tony Zhu and his father Jackie, 60, had run a restaurant called the Windy Café in Windermere, B.C., until 2013.

Jackie Zhu and his son Tony bought May May Restaurant in July 2014 after selling their successful diner Windy Cafe in Windermere, B.C. (Tony Zhu)

Zhu said his former customers from Windermere often drove more than an hour to Cranbrook to taste the ginger beef and homemade pan-fried dumplings that were menu favourites.

The restaurateur learned about the fire when Karen Kormilo, a server at May May for almost 28 years, texted him the tragic news. 

"It's heartbreaking because I've been there so many years and I had some really good boss[es]," Kormilo said about the loss of what she calls her "baby" restaurant. 

Server Karen Kormilo was out of work due to the pandemic, but has fond memories of the restaurant where she worked for almost 28 years. (Karen Kormilo)

Like Zhu, Kormilo has many good memories, but she was particularly fond of the birthday celebrations that happened in the restaurant. 

"I would head out to the table and everybody sang Happy Birthday," said Kormilo, who has been out of work since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Customers had been ordering takeaway food from May May until the fire.

Tony said his father is retiring and unsure whether he wants to stay in the restaurant business.

In the meantime, other businesses in the neighbourhood are organizing a raffle fundraiser with all proceeds going to May May Restaurant.

Jackie Zhu (right) with two of his loyal customers. Many diners at May May came from Windermere, B.C., where Zhu's former restaurant was located. (Tony Zhu)

Cranbrook RCMP is asking anyone who was in the area of the fire between 1:30 and 2 p.m. and who has dashcam or cellphone video to call 250-489-3471.

With files from Radio West

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