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Posted on Wed, Mar 10, 2010 : 5:38 a.m.

Tian Chu Korean restaurant in Ann Arbor makes 'American dream' come true

By Janet Miller

It wasn’t long after Lin Cui’s mother, Enzi, arrived from China by way of Budapest last fall that she started to walk around her new neighborhood in downtown Ann Arbor. She passed crowded restaurants and saw busy streets packed with people.

One day Enzi Cui came across an empty storefront where Rio Wraps Mexican restaurant had been. It seemed like the perfect location and size: Close to the university and its almost endless stream of students, busy with the downtown worker crowd looking for lunch and moderate size with seating for about 30.

Lin Cui.jpg

Lin Cui just opened Tian Chu Korean Restaurant on East William near South State in Ann Arbor.

Janet Miller | For

Enzi Cui made a proposition to her daughter: Open a Korean restaurant in their new adopted city. 

On March 1, they celebrated the opening of Tian Chu (it means Celestial Chef) at 613 E. William, on the edge of the University of Michigan campus.

It is, said Lin’s husband Brian Beaulac, the American dream. 

Lin Cui grew up in the Chinese state of Jilin to Korean parents. Her parents ensured they could offer their three daughters an education and opportunity. 

Enzi Cui was a high school teacher who would rush over to her Korean restaurant during her lunch hour and in the evening. Mingjia, Lin's father, was a professional soccer coach. 

They were able to send their daughters to college and then around the world: After college, Lin Cui moved to Japan for three years and then to Hungary to be close to one of her sisters. Her parents followed and the family ended up opening a series of small- and medium-sized Korean restaurants and cafés in Budapest. They were called Tian Chu. 

But Lin Cui had her eye on America, and came to this country with her son late in 2001. A friend taught at Eastern Michigan University so Lin Cui chose Ann Arbor as her new home. 

For the past eight years, she worked as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant, passing her citizenship test last year. But when her parents sold their last restaurant in Budapest and joined her in September, they decided to open a restaurant of their own.

For others, that could be daunting, said Beaulac.

 “I see people who have wanted to open a business of their own for years, but didn’t know how to do it and failed. Lin did this on her own.” 

That meant attending classes to learn about health and safety codes, contacting City Hall about permits and negotiating with landlord CPMI, Inc. 

“People at the Department of Health tend to talk fast and Lin had trouble sometimes following it. But she learned to tell them to slow down and she figured it out,” Beaulac said. 

She took a hard line with the landlord and negotiated a number of concessions, he said. And she wanted everything in writing, Beaulac said.

"She became a real American business woman.” 

Tian Chu will feature mostly traditional Korean dishes with a nod toward Taiwan and China. It's also modeled after the restaurants the family owned in Hungary, Lin Cui said. 

Bi bim bap and bamboo tofu bowls are specialties and bubbletea, a popular sweetened and flavored tea drink, will be served. 

Enzi Cui will serve as chef while Lin Cui will take care of the front-of-house operations.

While her mother has been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years, she has no desire to retire, Lin Cui said.

 “She’s not one to stay at home and do nothing or watch TV," Lin said. She’s very strong.”




Sat, Apr 24, 2010 : 3:08 p.m.

Honestly, with this article detailing this family's life like an epic movie trailer, I was expecting much better from this restaurant. I don't mind that the food is not authentic (although the owner says otherwise). What matters is if it's good or not. The food here is alright. Nothing really to write home about.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 5:35 p.m.

I'll have to try this place out. Authentic or not, I love tasty food, so if it's delicious, I'll love it.


Tue, Mar 16, 2010 : 2:48 p.m.

I live across the street from Tianchu, so I'd known about its new start in Ann Arbor the second the "Coming Soon" signs went up. I finally got to try their food last week and I was very pleased. I ordered their Bi Bim Bop and enjoyed it immensely. The vegetables were prepared so carefully and the flavor hit that "pleasure zone" on the nose. It was much better than the more slapdash food that is prepared at Kang's Coffee Break and I could taste the difference. I admit that I'm Chinese, so I don't have a good idea of what "authentic Korean" tastes like. But Tianchu's food was EXACTLY the kind of flavor that I'd been missing in my dining experiences since moving to Ann Arbor. So even if die-hard fans of authentic Korean cuisine don't approve, I would highly encourage those with a palate for Chinese flavors to check it out.

Dug Song

Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 10:19 p.m.

@jchoi - I was excited to visit too, and hope they play their Korean-Chinese heritage to their advantage. A few KBC (Korean-born Chinese) places locally used to feature some awesome Korean-Chinese dishes (like the sadly defunct at Eastern Accents - hand-cut homemade noodles and sauce! Or the,, etc. that Emerald City used to have), but maybe it's too niche even for Ann Arbor. I would trade two fro-yo shops and a few Chinese restaurants in Ann Arbor for a good Korean fried chicken joint (BonChon, ToreOre, whatever franchise or an old-school ). Seriously, it would blow minds, especially on campus. Can you imagine?


Wed, Mar 10, 2010 : 11:22 a.m.

Nice story and I'm happy for the owners and wish them success in their venture. So, I had an opportunity to visit the restaurant with two of my buddies... We ordered $45 worth of food and this is what I have to say. 1. I'll forgive them for organizational issues - they just opened up, they need time to adjust. Okay. 2. As for food goes, it's not authentic Korean. While their menu has lot of Korean food items, it has huge Chinese influence and it doesnt come close to Korean food. While the pictures and everything may look like Korean, the taste and flavoring is not Korean. Downtown Ann Arbor has lot of Korean restaurants, which Ill consider all of them fast food Korean joints. But Maru, U. Caf, JCs, and Coffee Break all have better Korean, authentic Korean versus TianChu. If I had to decide Tianchu versus Maru, Ill go to Maru.


Wed, Mar 10, 2010 : 9:08 a.m.

Fifth paragraph from the bottom...."It's also MODELED.... Nice article, Janet, we'll have to check out this new restaurant and good luck to Lin Cui and her family, I hope her restaurant is a great success!