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Four Seas restaurant satisfying appetites for authentic Chinese food

Four Seas restaurant owners are, from left, Yan Lin, who works behind the scenes in the kitchen, and Sunny Li and wife Heidi Gonzalez-Quevedo. The three emigrated from China, meeting in the United States. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Four Seas on Main is satisfying an appetite for Chinese food, the opening day earlier this summer an indication of the area's craving for oriental.

"We thank people for their patience and understanding," Heidi Gonzalez-Quevedo said. "Especially the first day," when customer numbers far exceeded expectations.

Owners Sunny Li, wife Heidi Gonzalez-Quevedo (her step-father's surname) and Yan Lin, all born in China, opened their fourth restaurant this summer in Park Rapids.

Sunny and Heidi's restaurants in Montana (opening in 2005) and Missouri (2006) were sold. The Michigan eatery closed (in 2008) due to the economy. Yan owns two restaurants in West Virginia; this is also his fourth endeavor.

Heidi (Jiang Hua) emigrated from the Chinese peninsula of Shandong with her parents when she was 11, arriving in Guam, an unincorporated territory of the United States, "where no one spoke Chinese."

But she adapted to her new environment, learning several languages in addition to English. Six years later, when she was 17, the family moved to Billings, Mont., where she graduated from high school.

"I didn't know my ABCs," she said of departing her native land six years earlier. "But I graduated from high school."

The trio became acquainted in West Virginia, Heidi said. Sunny was from New York. They met at Yan's brother's restaurant.

They were working at a restaurant in Perham in 2009 when they heard requests from Park Rapids residents to open a Chinese restaurant in Hubbard County.

"Opening was crazy," she admits of their debut. "We didn't expect as many people." An estimated 500 people arrived the first day, not including take-out orders. "We were short-handed."

The trio lived on two hours of sleep a day, no sleep by day three, Heidi said.

But no complaints are heard from the restaurateur; she expresses concern that patrons may have been inconvenienced by the wait.

They were soon on the phone to an employment agency in Chicago, recruiting more employees (now 12), all of whom they house. "We love them."

Chinese food is healthy, she said. "Lots of veggies, it's not greasy" and it's served "at a good price."

Lo mein and General Tso's chicken have proven to be patron favorites.

Heidi considers their specialties to be the twin roll appetizer, with cream cheese and shrimp; the shrimp roll, wrapped in rice paper; mango chicken or shrimp and strawberry chicken or shrimp.

The food, she said, is similar in taste to what's found in China, but less meat is used in the Orient due to cost (a pound of beef costing an equivalent of $20 to $30). "China uses more vegetables, lots of vegetables."

Sunny works both in the kitchen and in the dining room; Yan manages the kitchen and Heidi, who's ServeSafe certified, welcomes clientele.

Heidi has aspirations to head to college to earn a degree in business or accounting. But for now, she's concentrating on business at hand, with more restaurants in the planning stages - Wadena, Duluth ("by next summer") and Fergus Falls possibilities.

She prefers cities the size of Park Rapids. "In big cities, you don't get to know people... We're making friends here left and right.

"It will be a challenge," she said of balancing her post-secondary plans with the restaurant. "But I love challenges."

The Four Seas is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. with the exception of Sunday. "We close at 9 p.m."