After 33 Years, Santa Rosa’s Gary Chu’s Closes

A generation of diners grew up on Chu's Chinese cuisine. His namesake restaurant closed this week.

Gary Chu at O’Sake

A hand-scrawled sign reading “Closed” hardly seems a dignified end to what was once the North Bay’s most celebrated Asian restaurant. But after more than three decades, Gary Chu’s eponymous restaurant has shuttered permanently.

Chef/owner Gary Chu is isn’t too wistful, however, about the restaurant that put him on the map. Instead, the 60-year-old says he was ready to let the restaurant go after several years of tough labor markets, dwindling business, a family tragedy and a changing downtown Santa Rosa food scene.

“After 33 years of a business, we think we need new blood downtown,” he said, when reached at OSake, his Japanese-style restaurant in Santa Rosa, which will remain open. “We are just tired, and the business wasn’t doing very well. With the labor market so tight, we just couldn’t find anyone to work,” he added.

“My 80-year-old mother was washing dishes,” Chu said. Though the decision to close the restaurant was in his mind for several years, in early May, he drew the line. With a skeleton crew of just five kitchen staff—six including his mother—he decided that the loss of just one person would force his hand. On May 6, he lost one of the five remaining staff.

“I wish I could keep going, and I tried for four or five years, but I didn’t pay myself or my mom, and it’s just not worth it anymore,” he said.

In addition, Chu said that his brother, who was running Gary Chu’s day-to-day, was grieving the loss of his son last year, adding to the pressure.  “I can’t watch my family suffer. I said, ‘Let’s just stop’.”

Chili crab at Gary Chu’s

Chu opened the restaurant as China Palace in 1983, closing briefly in 1991 to revamp the concept into a more modern, gourmet Chinese restaurant. Lauded by critics, Gary Chu’s Gourmet Chinese Cuisine was a relatively new concept in the early 1990s, bringing diners an elevated, California-inspired Asian menu. In the last decade, however, the restaurant lost much of its luster as Chu’s attention shifted to his other restaurants, OSake, and SakeO in Healdsburg (which he no longer is involved with). But regulars continued to appreciate Chu’s signature martini prawns and lemon chicken, though reviews were more mixed, and became increasingly negative in the last year.

“I’m not saying I’m old, but the place needs younger people in it,” said Chu.

As owner of the Fifth Street building, Chu hopes to lease it to a new restaurant, and says he has some interest already, “but I’m not in a hurry,” he said.

“I feel great. Now I can have coffee with my wife in the morning,” he laughed.

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27 thoughts on “After 33 Years, Santa Rosa’s Gary Chu’s Closes

  1. seriously, folks, if u thot this was good chinese food, your tastebuds must be dead! terrible, expensive dishes w/no attention to detail — served by scowling staff — not exactly my cup o’tea. hopehopehope something NEW and INTERESTING moves in, making it worthwhile to go downtwn….

    1. I couldn’t disagree more! Gary Chu’s was the best Chinese food in Santa Rosa, if not the ENTIRE North Bay. And it was owned by an actual Chinese person. The food was EXTREMELY good and service was good. The floor was clean, the restaurant was lovely, and service was kind, unlike most real Chinese restaurants. I will miss it greatly!

  2. Oh no! So sad to see this one close now. Best seafood potstickers in the area they were. Best location, service, food, all around a pure 10 out of 10 rating.

  3. I noticed the unhappiness in the employees faces. It didn’t appear that they enjoyed working for Mr Chu.
    Typical yelling and screaming at the employees. No wonder he can’t find any help. He even has his elderly mother washing dishes ?

  4. Good riddance! Over priced Chinese food. Just because you serve the food in expensive chinas that you can charge more. The worst employer ever. If only they treated their employees better. If the server break the china he made them paid for it!

  5. Gary Chu’s set the bar when it comes to Chinese and Japanese food. Every place we eat gets compared to Gary Chu’s. So happy we can still get Martini Prawns at Osake. Gary Chu’s was a family tradition in our family, as well. If there was a special occasion, we went to Gary Chu’s.

    Sad news, but understand.

  6. So disappointed my favorite Chinese restaurant is closing!! But also glad Osake is staying open.

    1. We r very sad that our favorite Chinese place is closed- we would come from novato! We will miss it!

  7. It’s a tough loss for our family. We have been steady regulars since Gary & family opened, we brought each of our boys there from the time they were born almost 34 years ago. Staff was always friendly, gracious and the food excellent, even up to our last reservation a month or so back. We’ll miss lovely Jodie’s smile as we walked in, because she knew we were going to order an outrageous number of pot stickers for our opening dish! I’m sad our granddaughter Ava will never experince one in that great atmosphere.

    Frankly some of the comments here are completely off the wall as far as we’re concerned. We loved the restaurant and “Gary Chu’s” will always hold fond memories for us and the boys families as well.

    Best of luck to all of your dedicated staff, your family, your ever present mother and your fantastically patient wife. See you at Osake. I won’t feel as if I’ve closed the door on until I can see you in person.

    Best wishes George & Jody, Colin & Courtney (Max &Ava), Daniel & Julianne.

    PS Can I have the etched glass Dragon for my living room? ?

  8. I was hoping to see all of them close. Went to restaurant once. Worst experience. I filed formal complaint online and never received response.

  9. Gary got to old to catch stray cats, and he couldn’t find anybody to do it for him. That was the labor problem he had.

  10. Sorry to see a fine restaurant close. Have enjoyed many fine lunches and dinners there. Gary was a very gracious host and most accommodating. Wishing you and your wonderful Mom the very best in the future.

  11. We brought out children there so many times when they were growing up. Gary Chu’s will always have a warm place in our hearts. We have great memories of many special occasions that were celebrated there with family and friends. Very sad to see it close. Thank’s for the memories, Gary and family!

  12. See you soon at Osake Gary! A favorite of ours…We didn’t get downtown much Take a well deserved break – you and your MOM!

  13. The City Council did everything possible to ruin this and every other downtown business. Shameful

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