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 just opened Tian Chu Korean Restaurant on East William near South State in Ann Arbor.
Janet Miller | For AnnArbor.com
Enzi Cui made a proposition to her daughter: Open a Korean restaurant in their new adopted city.Â
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.Â
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.Â
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.Â
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 cafÃ©s in Budapest. They were called Tian Chu.Â
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.Â
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.
Â “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.”Â
That meant attending classes to learn about health and safety codes, contacting City Hall about permits and negotiating with landlord CPMI, Inc.Â
“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.Â
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.”Â
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.Â
Bi bim bap and bamboo tofu bowls are specialties and bubbletea, a popular sweetened and flavored tea drink, will be served.Â
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.
Â “She’s not one to stay at home and do nothing or watch TV," Lin said. She’s very strong.”