It's no surprise that lunch-time diners want to get into CaiE's Oriental Café. The sign is up. The lights are on. A lunch of dim sum and iced tea on the enclosed courtyard, with the gurgling sound of a fountain in the background, could be the perfect place to unwind for an hour.
But this isn't a relaxing time for CaiE George, restaurant expansionist and purveyor of downtown Carson City's newest establishment. She has to jump up every few minutes to direct the customers rattling her locked door to please come back the next day.
She's in the thick of opening her first restaurant at a prime corner of real estate in the heart of downtown, across from Stew's Sportatorium and beside City Hall. Those connected to the legislative session walk in flocks up and down Carson Street. To give herself some peace, she asks her precocious 7-year-old, Ashley Peng George, to advise customers on their status. It's a day before their Friday opening, and George is feeling exhilarated.
"Our specialty is dim sum, which means 'touch of a heart,' it also means 'small snacks between meals," said George, 43, whose first name in Cantonese means "white swan." "From our culture it comes from the late Qing period, when China started to implement a food culture of small meals between the three major meals."
CaiE's Oriental Café resembles a dining location that you might find in San Francisco. The colors are warm, oranges and reds and greens. These are good Feng Shui colors that invoke a fresh feeling and prosperity, she said. The tables and counters are all topped with a green marble imported from China. The green is one of George's own personal Feng Shui colors. There's plenty of space; inside they seat 70, outside 40.
The menu is on the wall, something you won't find at many of Carson's finer downtown restaurants. Something else you won't find: prices around $5 a combo with free soup, dim sum is as low as 75 cents per piece. This set up is trendy and comfortable, but also conveys the speed that many on-the-go diners want.
To call CaiE's café a family-operated business is too simple. The Chinese-born business woman, who said her true gift is her sense of taste for the sauces and seasonings, plans to expand her ideas as far as they can go.
She and her husband, Alan George, both of Reno, chose to open the first of three Northern Nevada restaurants in Carson City.
"I always liked Carson City because of the rich history in this area," she said.
They found their perfect location at 301 N. Carson St. The 1929 Sweetland building incorporates the old brick architecture and tall windows. It has been vacant for about two years, after Garibaldi's left to move next door.
Other interested parties have wanted the spot. Tom Johnson, a broker with Sperry Van Ness who owns the building, said the Georges were the first with the financial capabilities to make it work.
George said they invested about $500,000 to get the business open. That included putting in a large window on the south side and doing extensive renovations.
The couple have a touch when it comes to making a business work. Before they married in 1989, (They met in a law office in New York City. It was love at first sight for Alan George, he watched her for several days, then finally followed her up to her office. He proposed on day two.) they started Chang Sheng Trading Co. In 1998, they bought a shipping container manufacturer out of bankruptcy. It made $11 million the first year. By the time they sold it in 2003, it was worth $108 million.
George said she prefers her love for food rather than the hectic manufacturing industry.
She turns the conversation back onto her business every chance she gets. They'll have fresh dim sum made by hand daily by their master in Reno.
"The concept is quality, control and consistency," she said. "We want to build many restaurants."
CaiE Foods is headquartered at 1802 A Brierley Way in Sparks. The 30,000-square-foot center will be their distribution point for their pre-cut meats, vegetables and freshly made Chinese cuisine. They use no MSG. The couple plans to open a café in Double Diamond and on Robb Drive. They employ 22.
CaiE's Oriental Café is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The grand opening has yet to be decided. Contact the restaurant at 883-8280.
"I will pick it (the date) from a Feng Shui master in China," she said, with a smile. "Everything he says comes true. It's scary."
• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.