The ornate decor left behind in the former Great Wall restaurant has been complemented by aisles of Asian groceries and antiques as Rose and Ed Lacsa prepare for the upcoming opening of the Midwest Asian Variety Store.
Located at 3103 Kirkwood St., opening in about two weeks, the store will provide Southeastern Iowans who want to try their hand at Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Thai or Chinese cuisine a place to shop for ingredients or grab snacks and bubble tea . looking through a collection of antiques Ed previously had at Eclectic Design and Antiques.
“That’s why I put the ‘variety’ in it,” Ed said with a laugh at the store’s name.
And in a few months, the Lacsas plan to offer cooked food like egg rolls, noodles, kebabs and other Filipino takeaways. They hope to expand to dine-in within the next year.
“They expect us to serve food here,” Ed said. “It’s a waste if this business is closed or converted to another type of business. The environment inside is so beautiful, we want to preserve it. We don’t want to move anything. It’s like a work of art.”
Inside the building, a gold and red archway opens to a dining area whose walls are decorated with Asian paintings and other artworks.
“For the Chinese, the dragon is a godsend, so I don’t want to remove it,” Rose said.
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Rose is looking forward to opening her shop there, but was saddened to see the Great Wall Restaurant signage falling down. She had worked there for 20 years until it closed in 2020 due to the pandemic. Rose had hoped the restaurant would reopen, but it never did.
The Lacsas had moved to Iowa from Arkansas in 2000 to take a job as a civil engineer, which Ed took in Mount Pleasant. Before moving to Arkansas in 1996, they lived in Singapore after a stint in Saudi Arabia where Ed worked in building design. They are originally from the Philippines.
They opened their first Midwest Asian Variety Store about 10 years ago on the corner of Sunnyside and Mount Pleasant Avenues, but between raising two young children and working other jobs, they didn’t have enough time to run the store and closed it then about a year.
“We’ve been so busy with the kids,” Ed said. “They were little then.”
With their sons now grown, Ed and Rose decided to reopen the shop in the same location last March. It was well received.
“A lot of Americans, not just Asians, are trying to cook their own Asian food now,” Ed said. “They are experimenting because of Facebook, YouTube, they learned how to cook Asian food. They buy ingredients here and say they cook.”
However, parking there was limited and the space they were in did not have the utility hookups needed to support the equipment they had purchased to prepare take-out food.
The Great Wall now stood empty.
“We were driving and I was joking with my husband,” Rose recalled. “I said in two years if that’s not full, that’s ours.”
That dream has since become a reality, and the Lacsas have spent the last few months cleaning and preparing the space for their shop.
They removed the seating from half the dining area and put in its place the food area with an array of sauces, spices, egg noodles, instant noodle cups, curry pastes, spice packets, spring roll wraps, grated coconut, fish balls, French sponge cake, pork asado buns, tea bags and bubble tea.
There are also different types of rice – a firm favorite for Rose, who after 26 years in the US still prefers cereal to the bread products her children prefer.
“Rice is a common grain for Asians,” Ed said.
“Rice is my life,” Rose added, laughing.
There’s short rice, which Ed says is used for sushi; basmati rice; Thai Jasmine Brown Rice; and sweet rice, which is good for sticky rice and cakes.
Rose will oversee the grocery section while Ed, who is still a full-time engineer, will oversee the antiques section.
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The party room at the back of the building remains closed for future use to be determined, and Ed still has some plumbing work to do in the kitchen before the Lacsas can begin serving dishes from their home country.
Once it opens later this month, the store will be open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 6pm.
Michaele Niehaus reports on business, development, environment and agriculture for The Hawk Eye. She can be reached at email@example.com.