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Influx of Asian buffets headed to Victoria

By ALLISON MILES
Oct. 7, 2010 at 5:07 a.m.
Updated Oct. 9, 2010 at 5:09 a.m.

Red lettering announced the newest addition to a shopping center at the 3600 block of North Navarro Street, "China Buffet coming soon."

VICTORIA'S ASIAN BUFFETS Buffet City, 9104 N. Navarro St.

China Taste Super Buffet, 6908 N. Navarro St.

Hunan Restaurant, 601 E. Mockingbird Lane

China Inn, 3602 Houston Hwy., Suite E

China Inn, 6360 N. Navarro St

New Asian buffets Grand Buffet, 4303 N. Navarro St.

Incoming site at 2902 N. Navarro St.

Incoming site at 3611 N. Navarro St.*

*No permit filed with city

A message on a window in red lettering announced the newest addition to a shopping center at the 4300 block of North Navarro Street: "Grand Buffet coming soon. All you can eat Asian buffet."

And, with two other similar restaurants on their way, it isn't alone.

While some say the influx of Asian buffets means added competition, others worry Victoria isn't large enough for the influx.

The buffet trend isn't unique to Victoria, said Joe Harper, director of the University of Houston-Victoria's Small Business Development Center. Other communities have seen increases in all varieties of buffet restaurants.

Buffets are typically more inexpensive to operate than traditional restaurants, he said, but he attributed the increase to perceptions.

People often believe they get more than they pay for at a buffet, he said. When it comes to Asian buffets, people often equate such cuisine with lower prices. Neither belief is necessarily true.

"We don't know, but we suspect that it's a value shift that is actually giving credence to these buffets," Harper said.

Planning is under way for a Chinese buffet at 2902 N. Navarro St., where the Tejas Cafe & Bar operated until late last month.

Linda and Jeffery Chen, who also own Dragon Palace, thought it was time to locate a buffet-style eatery in a site more convenient for those who work downtown, Linda Chen said.

She said she wasn't concerned about other buffets because, after Dragon Palace's 30 years in business, the company has loyal customers. And more restaurants also bring benefits, she said.

"There's more competition," Chen explained. "I think it's OK to have another one."

The words "China buffet coming soon, 16,000 s. ft." are spray painted across windows at 3611 N. Navarro St., in the same strip center that houses the Lacks Clearance Center. No permits have yet been filed with the city, although the site is in plan review.

Jeff Lin opened Buffet City about six months ago in front of Victoria's Walmart. News of the incoming restaurants has been a conversation starter among his customers.

"They ask me what I think and I say, 'I don't know,'" Lin said. "I totally think that's too many."

He said he isn't sure how things will fare for the new restaurants, since they are so close together.

"They're like, across the street from one another," he said. "They're going to kill each other."

Competition is always good for the marketplace but it's important for potential restaurateurs to do research before choosing to set up shop, Harper said.

It's safer to locate a niche and fill a need within a city, he said, but others take the riskier option and open up in search of a niche.

"If they've found one, it means the market will sustain," Harper explained. "Otherwise, it's survival of the fittest. Don't look for them to stay around."

As for whether the influx is a good or bad thing for Victoria, Harper said it's hard to say.

"I think it's a sign of the times," he said.

Lin said he isn't worried about his restaurant.

Buffet City is about three miles north of the new sites and has shopping centers nearby, which will continue to bring in business. The restaurant will soon obtain licenses to sell beer and wine, he said, which brings more options to customers.

And, if nothing else, Lin said the added competition will keep him and his staff on their toes.

"The only thing we can do is wait and see if they open and if they do a better job than us," he said.

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