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Iconic Rutherford Restaurant Closing After Almost 60 Years

Mae Sung, seated, and her daughter Wae. The Sung Family has operated the New China Inn 56 years and will close on Saturday.
Mae Sung, seated, and her daughter Wae. The Sung Family has operated the New China Inn 56 years and will close on Saturday. Photo Credit: Cindy Capitani
Mae Sung and her daughter-in-law Li Hung. Mae is ready to retire and is planning a visit to China.
Mae Sung and her daughter-in-law Li Hung. Mae is ready to retire and is planning a visit to China. Photo Credit: Cindy Capitani
Jim LeFante, left, and friend Terry Scott, both of Rutherford, have been eating at the New China Inn since the early 1970s.
Jim LeFante, left, and friend Terry Scott, both of Rutherford, have been eating at the New China Inn since the early 1970s. Photo Credit: Cindy Capitani
Waiter Mr. Wong has been serving food at the New China Inn almost as long as the restaurant has been open.
Waiter Mr. Wong has been serving food at the New China Inn almost as long as the restaurant has been open. Photo Credit: Cindy Capitani
Their menus haven't changed, something longtime customers have enjoyed and will miss.
Their menus haven't changed, something longtime customers have enjoyed and will miss. Photo Credit: Cindy Capitani
Shrimp in lobster sauce, a popular New China Inn classic
Shrimp in lobster sauce, a popular New China Inn classic Photo Credit: Submitted/Irene Spratt
New China Inn's speciality Shrimp Toast, served on fancy dishes, like everything at the restaurant.
New China Inn's speciality Shrimp Toast, served on fancy dishes, like everything at the restaurant. Photo Credit: Submitted/Irene Spratt
It was reservations only Sunday night at the New China Inn. People were waiting outside disappointed they couldn't get a seat.
It was reservations only Sunday night at the New China Inn. People were waiting outside disappointed they couldn't get a seat. Photo Credit: Submitted/Maya Cruz

RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If you want to grab a table at the New China Inn, you better call ahead -- and make it snappy.

The borough's longest running restaurant, and also one of its fewest original downtown institutions, is closing its doors after nearly 60 years in business.

Their final day of operation is Saturday, when the Sung family will hang up their aprons, and Mae and her daughter Wae, and daughter-in-law Li Hung, will finally get a long-needed break.

Mae, 89, still walks everyday and since news of the restaurant's closing broke, has been working harder than ever. She's planning a trip to China after the dust settles.

She first opened in 1960, with her now-deceased husband Frank. The restaurant was smaller then, and they shared space with Rutherford Taxi at Station Square.

After Frank's heart attack, they rolled out a healthy choice menu, and even after his death in 1994, the New China Inn remained a family affair.

Not just for the Sungs, but for everyone in town.

Irene Petrenko Spratt grew up in Rutherford and had fun waiting in the long line on Sunday night.

"Everyone was from Rutherford and just talked about how the New China Inn connected us," the RHS Class of 1970 graduate said. "Mae is just amazing. She was changing tables over and she looks just terrific."

Rosemary Azzaro, 60, of Carlstadt, said as a child, she remembers it as being so exotic. She went to St. Mary's High School in Rutherford and grew up in Lyndhurst.

"My aunt and uncle would bring me and my brother there and it felt so fancy, with the table cloths and dishes," she said. "They had the most fabulous cantonese at a time when no one really had such a thing."

She recalls fondly their Shrimp with Lobster Sauce and Lobster Cantonese. "It's still great and they will be missed. Their food, and as a family."

Azzaro carried the tradition forward, taking her own nieces and nephews there. "It still has that transported feel."

For Nancy Matthews Zwemmer, the New China Inn represents Christmas Eve family dinners that started in her childhood and continued with her own family. "The whole Sung family ate there with us too, so we always felt like we knew them. They came to expect us."

She said her parents went there before they were married. "Through the years as kids it was our first introduction to diversified food."

As an adult, sometimes home with three children, it felt like a night out. "I could go out to dinner and feel like I was out to dinner. It was just special that way. It's one of the few Chinese restaurants left like that."

Zwemmer said Mae was like of the the town's matriarch and she made it a point to bring all of the Facebook nostalgia to show the family. "They never had a website or got on Facebook. I wanted them to see the outpouring of love everyone had for them. I think they were surprised by how much this place meant to everyone."

On the Facebook site "You Know You're From Rutherford If..." there are probably 200 comments from people sharing memories of first dates, wedding rehearsal dinners, family outings and reunion traditions, all about the New China Inn.

Daughter-in-law Li said it's been so busy everyone in the family has been helping out. And they will miss everyone who has stopped by.

The New China Inn is located at 32 Ames Ave. Call 201-438-0324 for a reservation.

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