As a teenager and young adult, En “Denny” Xie labored in steamy kitchens of Chinese restaurants stretching from New York’s famed Chinatown to the mountains of Denver. He had come to the United States with his father and only a seventh-grade education from his native China. He knew “zero” English and didn’t realize that was a problem until years later, when he wanted to open his own restaurant.
Opening a business requires dealing with licensing agencies, health and fire inspectors, contractors, and, ultimately, customers. When Denny opened Samurai Steakhouse in West Bloomfield, he was entirely dependent on a friend to translate for him.
“It would have been a lot easier” to open the restaurant conversant in English, Denny recalled in an interview at the restaurant, where koi swim in a pool in the lobby.
The desire to become fluent in English led Denny to ask Oakland Literacy Council for a tutor. He was matched with Denise, and the pair met at the Farmington Hills Public Library weekly.
“My tutor taught me proper sentence structure and new vocabulary,” he said. “I never expected a free tutor would teach like a professional. She helped me a lot.”
Denny’s reading and conversational skills improved over the two-and-a-half-year-period he met with his tutor. Then Denny began to dream of opening a business in Farmington Hills that would help revitalize a strip of Grand River Avenue.
This time, he dealt with the government officials, architects, and contractors all by himself, without help from a translator. Samurai Hibachi and Sushi restaurant opened last fall in space formerly occupied by a bakery. He also renovated three residential units on the second floor.
Denny is also developing a new, four-story, mixed-use building next door to Farmington Hills restaurant. Denny hopes construction will begin this summer. A second restaurant will occupy the first floor, with condos above.
Becoming literate made it possible for Denny to pursue his dreams. “All immigrants want the American Dream, no matter who they are,” he said.