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Hunan Pearl sees a shuffling of ownership after inflation, labor shortages created challenges 

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Owner Sam Pieh poses for a photo with manager Ethan Li (left) and Ethan's dad, Wei Li, who is a fellow manager and partner.

Sam Pieh recently ran into a former New Yorker who was accustomed to quality Chinese food, only to be underwhelmed when she moved to Oregon. That changed when she found Hunan Pearl.

So, when the Sichuan- and Hunan-style restaurant in Lake Oswego announced it was closing earlier this summer after serving hot plates to the community since 1995, Pieh said the woman began to cry. The restaurant owner reassured her.

"I said, 'You don't have to cry anymore. We're open,'" said Pieh, who lives in Lake Oswego.

The previous ownership group had planned to close Hunan Pearl, at 15160 Bangy Road, this year and the restaurant did shut its doors at the end of July. However, Pieh, who has had a stake in the restaurant since it opened, did not want it to close and bought the shop from his former partners. Pieh said he signed the new agreement Aug. 16 and the restaurant reopened Aug. 26.

"So far everyone who has been in here has been very happy with the menu. Some have said it's better than what it was. That puts a smile on my face," Pieh said.

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Hunan Pearl is located on 15160 Bangy Road in Lake Oswego.

The restaurant's origins, according to Pieh, started with its Portland predecessor, Hunan, in the early 1980s. Pieh then helped open a Chinese restaurant in Beaverton before moving it to Lake Oswego. Pieh distinguished Hunan and Sichuan cuisine from Cantonese Chinese food, explaining that his food derives from Northern China where it is colder and people seek food that is spicy, saucy and hearty.

"Our food is superior in quality in terms of the ingredients. We use very fresh vegetables. We don't use a lot of the filler other people do. We don't batter our meats like many places do," he said. "It's very authentic and is unique in flavors because of the garlic and peppers. It's spicier than what most Americans are used to as far as Chinese food."

Pieh said the last few years have been tough — particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic, high inflation and labor shortages.

"The last two years, a lot of restaurants have gone away for good. They're not coming back," Pieh said.

Along with health issues, these are some of the reasons the other owners wanted to sell, according to Pieh. However, he felt the business could be viable and so, along with other partners, made a successful offer to buy the restaurant.

"I've been a member of this community since 1983. I know how popular and well liked this restaurant is among Tualatin, Tigard and Lake Oswego (residents)," he said.

Pieh said the menu has remained unchanged after the ownership transfer, but he brought back a few chefs who had previously worked there and updated the ambiance. A few dishes he recommended included the Dragon and Phoenix, which has General Tso's chicken and prawns sautéed with fresh vegetables, as well as the green beans and asparagus.

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - The restaurant closed its doors for a few weeks but then reopened under a new management team. Pieh had previously handled behind-the-scenes tasks like permitting and resolving plumbing or employee issues but has recently been more public facing.

"A lot of customers were going in saying, 'Well, how come we never saw you here?' Well, I was working in the background," Pieh said, adding that his partner's son Ethan Li is serving as a manager.

He said the reception since they reopened has been especially warm.

"The last two weeks I've never seen so many happy faces thanking us for staying open," Pieh said.

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