Charles Allen presents the “Jenny and Henry Liu Appreciation Resolution of 2018” to Jenny, Henry and granddaughter Emily (Photo courtesy office of Charles Allen)
After 40 years of service, Jenny’s officially closed its doors this summer, though a scaled down version can be found at the Wharf near the top of District Pier. Last month, Arena Stage honored Jenny and Henry Liu, the founders and owners of Jenny’s, during the Southwest Night showing of “Turn Me Loose.” The gathering featured Councilmember Charles Allen, ANC Commissioner Gail Fast, and Molly Smith, Artistic Director at Arena Stage.
Councilmember Allen presented the couple with the “Jenny and Henry Liu Appreciation Resolution of 2018,” which he had passed through the City Council earlier that day. The crowd toasted Jenny and Henry, and Smith presented them with a plaque thanking them for their 40 years of great food and lasting friendship. “I love you guys. I really love you guys. I love Southwest!” said Jenny.
The staff of “The Southwester” spoke with Jenny and Henry about the history of the restaurant in the neighborhood and what’s next.
What inspired you to invest in the SW community as the home for your namesake restaurant?
We (Jenny and Henry) actually met in Washington, DC. We had mutual friends who introduced us and one of our friends owned a boutique shop in SW. When we got married and began to start our family, we realized that we would love to run a small business and that we loved the SW community. We took over that boutique shop initially but shortly thereafter, the opportunity to open a restaurant emerged and we jumped at the chance. It was a privilege to us to share our love of food and family with SW.
As immigrants to DC we had no knowledge or preconceptions of “good or bad neighborhoods” or what it meant to be in SW vs Georgetown but just found a place we felt comfortable and welcome. The SW community embraced us with open arms and we loved it back. Back then there were EPA employees during the day and the neighborhood folks in the evenings and to us it was just this diverse and vibrant area of town that still felt tight knit and a place we could feel at home since at the time we had two small kids who came to work with us often. The proximity to the memorials and all that is famous in DC just made us feel that much more American!
What is your favorite dish to enjoy on the menu- be it the most recent menu or an earlier menu? What about to prepare?
Sometimes people think that if you love to cook you should work in a restaurant but it’s not the same as cooking the same thing hundreds of times a day and making sure it tastes the same every time! After 40 years one of the things we pride ourselves on is the consistency and that our SW neighbors can order something and know what to expect. There is just a certain aroma that comes off the wok for all the spicy dishes that makes you salivate immediately whether you eat spicy food or not and that never gets old so our favorites are items like the drunken noodles or the spicy szechuan string beans which are so flavorful every time! That being said I would say that the items we get the most comments about being the most unique for our customers compared to other places is definitely our orange chicken, from the fresh orange peels to the large cooked to order chunks of chicken breast it’s definitely a dish that you don’t see made the same in most places.
Tell us a bit about the kiosk operations. How is it different than the restaurant (ie service, clients)? How is it the same? Will the menu remain the same, or are you looking to expand or change it up? My husband is dying for your dumplings!
The kiosk is our attempt to try to stay in the neighborhood and somewhat connected but unfortunately it’s nowhere near the same as the restaurant. Without a kitchen to cook in we can really only steam items that are prepped ahead of time. We will continue to try and revamp the menu to allow us to serve as many classic Asian comfort dishes as possible and adjust with the weather but the small space and limited equipment capabilities really prevent us from doing much. Dumplings and noodle soups/bowls hopefully will be added in the fall so stay tuned. In the end though, Jenny’s has always been about providing food and atmosphere that puts a smile on the face of our guests and the kiosk is no different!
Tell us a bit about what SW was like when you first moved down here decades ago? When was the first day of service? How has the neighborhood changed outside of the developments and not changed since?
How hasn’t it changed? The neighborhood feels completely different with all the big, expensive, buildings and influx of new people but what hasn’t changed is the compassion and camaraderie of the people who live in SW. We have watched multiple generations of SW neighbors evolve during our time here and maybe the clothes they wear or the cars they drive have modernized but what has never changed is the down to earth demeanor and appreciation of a good meal which is what made us stay for as long as we did. There will always be tourists during cherry blossom season and happy hour patrons from the offices but it’s the neighbors that stroll down for a meal on Tuesday night or pickup weekday takeout every week because even on the weeks that aren’t too busy to cook, Jenny’s had become a staple that makes the neighborhood and that is what we miss the most.
For now, we are staying busy with our 2 grandchildren (Emily–almost 4; Benjamin–just turned 1) and travel to visit the family and friends who we’ve had limited time for over the last 40 years. We continue to stay active and busy so that if there is another fitting opportunity to open Jenny’s in SW, we’re ready! Readers can keep an eye out and let us know if there’s a space to welcome us back for at least another 40 years. My mom (Jenny’s) lived past 100 years old so I’ve got at least a few more decades in me!
Anything else we should know/highlight/mention?
We also want to take this opportunity to mention the amazing staff of Jenny’s. We (Jenny and Henry) have our family, but just as importantly, we had our restaurant family. Many of our staff members worked with us for over 20 years. Just like our customers, we’ve seen our staff members grow up, graduate, get married, become parents and now even a few grandparents. We know that they greatly miss SW as well and that their customers miss them back. Thank you, Southwest, for a lifetime of memories!
BY Southwester Staff