Empire Chinese Kitchen on Congress Street has reopened its dining room. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

After operating as a takeout-only restaurant for almost three years, Empire Chinese Kitchen has reopened its dining room to welcome customers back for indoor dining.

Co-owner Theresa Chan said Empire “quietly” reopened May 24 so that staff could have time to adjust to the operational change. Empire’s website notes that it is “open for take out & dine in,” but the restaurant made no other announcements about reopening the dining room.

“We changed it on our website basically as a way to let our very loyal takeout customers know,” Chan said.

Chan said she’d hoped Empire could reopen its dining room last spring, but delays to infrastructure projects – like installing new ceiling insulation and replacing the HVAC system with heat pumps – took months longer than expected. When last fall rolled around, Chan said, Empire leadership just figured they’d reopen this spring instead and focus over the winter on the busy takeout business they’ve cultivated since launching it out of necessity in October 2020.

“We have a bumping takeout program and during the winter, we’re just cranking out takeout orders,” Chan said.

Jessie Sterling and Matt Melcher prepare to dig into a late lunch at Empire in 2019. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Empire also aimed to reopen its upstairs entertainment venue first, Chan said. The second floor opened for live music, comedy and burlesque in March.

The lid comes off a serving of har gow at Empire in 2019. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The extremely popular Congress Street restaurant offered the first dim sum in Portland when it opened in 2013, and is cherished for its extensive menu of traditional Cantonese dishes and updated classics. Empire’s formerly 74-seat dining room has shrunk by about 14 seats to accommodate a takeout service counter area installed during the pandemic.

Chan said that, so far, Empire’s dining room hasn’t been filled yet as the restaurant reopens softly and gradually, noting that the first customers back inside have been a kind of mix.

“Half of them are people who are extremely excited, and half are walk-in traffic, who had no idea we were closed in the first place,” she said. “But I’ve had people walk by and jump for joy at the windows. It’s been the best feeling ever. It is extremely heart-warming to have customers in here again.”

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