OAKLAND -- Hundreds of patrons filled Montclair Village's Silver Palace Restaurant & Bar on July 15 to bid farewell to the beloved establishment that served Chinese food -- and many a mai tai -- for 28 years.
"I'm a little sad. I don't know when I will see all these people again," said owner Martin Auyoung, who publicly announced his plans to retire earlier this month.
The Silver Palace opened in 1986 on Montclair's Moraga Avenue. Tami Bobb, of the Grubb Company, was Auyoung's very first customer -- at the age of 19.
"It was the first Chinese restaurant and my last," Bobb said. "It's an institution. It's a West Coast 'Cheers.' The food is consistent. The lemon duck was as good when I was 20 (years old) as it is today."
"They are closing a legend," said David Otero. "They make an interesting mai tai. It's potent."
Auyoung is famous for his mai tais, which he perfected working for Trader Vic's for 17 years, and gave his own secret twist to when he opened the Silver Palace. All three of Auyoung's daughters, Sergi, Shirleen, and Wendy, worked at Silver Palace and are privy to the secret of Auyoung's mai tai recipe.
Customer Mark Magers said he is working with Wendy Auyoung to bottle Auyoung's mai tai mix for the commercial market. But it won't equal the experience of drinking a mai tai at Silver Palace.
"It's not going to be the same," said Doug Fuller, while sipping one last mai tai. "It's the Montclair secret bar that almost nobody knows about."
"It's about the family, not a piece of ground. It's more than just a place It's about Martin's family. We raised our families together. There aren't many places like this left. It's a philosophy of running a business," Julio Andujar said.
"I feel like part of the Auyoung family. I'm going to miss the family. I've been coming here for eight years through good times and bad times. It's an eclectic crowd. I'm going to miss it," Pamela Playsted said.
"I'm sad but glad we are leaving on a good note. My dad worked hard. He deserves a good send-off," Wendy Auyoung said. "The friends from high school used to work here. My dad encouraged the kids to work here and get customer service experience. It really helped them."
"It was an opportunity to learn social skills. I enjoyed the job. I grew from it. It played a big part in my present life," said Edward Cao, a former employee and family friend.
"It's an incredible loss to the community," said Dr. Phil Sherard, who met his friends often at the restaurant to play liar's dice. "I've watched the girls grow and become mothers. I don't know what to do. I might even have to start cooking."
No one will miss the Silver Palace more than Robert Akers, a duck hunter. Akers has been hosting private duck dinners at the restaurant for about 20 years. The dinners have become popular over the years and have included renowned chef Narsai David, Akers said.
Auyoung sold his business within two weeks of putting the restaurant on the market to Camber, an Uptown establishment that serves Southeast Asian cuisine on Telegraph Avenue. Owners Irfan and Linda Jaffery came to wish Auyoung well. Camber Montclair is scheduled to open Sept. 1.
"I will miss the camaraderie," Magers said of the Silver Palace. "They call it the 'Cheers' bar. It means a lot. It's trite, but all good things must come to an end."