American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation today announced that 25 U.S. historic independent restaurants—including China King in Leesburg—will collectively receive $1 million in grant funding through the Backing Historic Small Restaurants grant program.
In its second year, the program awards $40,000 to each establishment to help improve the restaurants’ physical space and provide critical operating funds to help them better serve their customers and grow their businesses.
China King has operated for nearly 50 years on South King Street in Leesburg’s historic district. It was founded by Ken and May Mao in 1975, and their relatives, the Whang family, bought the restaurant in 1989. It continues to be a family-owned business run the second-generation sister-brother team of Mindy Schwanborg and Alan Whang.
The grant will help pay for the restoration of the restaurant’s façade, where the art deco vitrolite glass installed at least a half century ago has cracked. That’s proven to be no easy feat, as the once common pigmented structure glass treatment that reached its height of popularity in the 1920s and ’30s is no long manufactured—in the U.S. or anywhere else. The family is working with St. Louis, MO-based vitrolite specialist Tim Dunn, who salvages the material from across country and in Canada, to complete the restoration.
Another challenge for the restoration effort is that the green vitrolite on the storefront can’t be found. The restaurant owners are scheduled to appear before the town’s Board of Architectural Review this month to win approval of a substitute color from the material that is available.
Whang said wining the grant was a big surprise, especially competition with restaurants nationwide.
Talking with the town staff last year about the restoration, they wanted the owners to stick with the green. “Of course. It is part of the charm of Leesburg and everyone knows our building,” Schwanborg said. “But it will be nice to have a change and freshen up the façade.”
She credits Leesburg’s Preservation Planner Lauren Murphy for encouraging them to apply for the grant. “It’s a project we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but it is hard to come up with that extra money to invest in that,” Schwanborg said.
“It’ll be really nice. We might have a little different look but the same character and the same people running it,” she said.
The grants were offered to restaurants located in the historic district that have been in operation for 25 years or more.
“These establishments have served their communities for decades, and they represent a diverse collection of cuisines and cultures that are integral to the fabric of their neighborhoods,” stated Madge Thomas, president of the American Express Foundation and Head of Corporate Sustainability. “Backing small businesses is central to who we are, and we are proud to support these historically significant restaurants in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.”
These grants are designed to help historic restaurants make much-needed updates such as creating outdoor seating, addressing deferred maintenance, and funding other general operating and marketing costs.
“The National Trust is pleased to partner with American Express in recognizing the irreplaceable value of these multi-generational small businesses which often sit at the center of their communities. These small restaurants reflect not just the histories of their neighborhoods but also their futures. They represent the dynamic and vibrant nature of preservation today, relevant to customers while deeply rooted in legacies of gathering around good food,” Chief Preservation Officer Katherine Malone-France said.
The “Backing Historic Small Restaurants” grant program is funded by American Express and administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The recognition puts China King in good company with other well-known destination venues and local community icons. Other grant recipients are:
Antoine’s Restaurant, New Orleans, LA
B&H Dairy Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant, New York, NY
Black Forest Inn, Minneapolis, MN
El Adobe Mexican, Grill Atoka, OK
The Glen Rock Mill Inn, Glen Rock, PA
Golden Burro Café, Leadville, CO
The Harmony Inn, Harmony, PA
Hi-Way Café, Vinita, OK
The Historic Magnolia House, Greensboro, NC
The Irish Rover, Louisville, KY
Khalil’s Middle Eastern Restaurant, Pittsburgh, PA
La Segunda, Bakery Tampa, FL
Max’s Taphouse, Baltimore, MD
Miller’s Soul Food, Dublin, GA
Mr. Henry’s, Washington, DC
Nancy’s Silver Café, Silver City, NM
Penn Brewery and Restaurant, Pittsburgh, PA
Rainbow Chinese Restaurant, Minneapolis, MN
Saratoga Restaurant, Terre Haute, IN
Schwabl’s Restaurant, Buffalo, NY