CHINATOWN — Around lunchtime, the Chinatown Café fills up with the type of big guys who can down a big plate of Chinese food before noon.
It’s been that way for decades.
Now, the venerable diner is closing on Friday after a 30-year run at 2604 S. Wentworth Ave.
“We’ve been putting it off for years,” said Irene Yau, who runs the restaurant with her sister Pauline. The sisters took over the restaurant from their parents Yuk and Kwo about 15 years ago.
“We’ve been working to make sure people here had jobs and the bills got paid," Irene Yau said. "But we don’t know if we’re able to cover the rent.”
During a recent visit, the tables and stools quickly filled up with regulars — cops, utility workers and other blue collar types — stopping in one last time. Among the lunchtime crowd were retired electricians Gerard Fratto and Bruce Spychala.
“I’ve been coming here since they opened. Since day one. I’ve lived near Chinatown all my life and been to 99 percent of the restaurants and I’d say this is the best by far,” said Fratto, 55, of Bridgeport.
"He's in mourning," Spychala said.
The cash-only restaurant makes nearly everything from scratch, including their popular satay beef entrée, chop suey dishes and famous egg rolls stuffed with shrimp, pork and peanut butter.
Diners said the word had spread among city workers that the restaurant was closing its doors, so many were clamoring to get in for a final visit.
“We were here [Wednesday] and we couldn’t get in,” said Mike Davidson, of Mt. Greenwood, sitting with two electrician buddies, Sal Alvarado and Joe Nieciak.
"It's gonna be hard to see them close," Nieciak said over a big plate of Satay beef and rice. "Where we gonna go eat?"
Patrons gushed about their favorite dishes and recalled watching Irene — who’s helped out at the restaurant since the 1980s — grow up behind the counter. One guy said he was in love with a waitress.
Irene Yau said the closing was bittersweet. It’s the end of an era, but she’ll have more time to volunteer at her son’s school, Bridgeport’s James Ward Elementary.
“It’s been hard to keep up,” she said.
Chinatown Cafe is located at 2604 S. Wentworth Ave. It's open until 8 p.m. Thursday and will be open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, the final day of service.