Sunday night was the last time Lee Lee’s Hot Kitchen served up its orange chicken, beef with broccoli or walnut shrimp.
Founding partner Karalee Fallert announced Monday that the nearly 3-year-old Chinese restaurant at 218 President St. in the Westside neighborhood of downtown Charleston has closed. Fifteen employees lost their jobs; Fallert said she is working to help them get positions at her other restaurants, which include Closed for Business, The Royal American, The Park Cafe and Taco Boy.
Fallert attributed the decision to close mostly to the frequent street closures near the restaurant for road work. Over the past two years, the city has shut down several streets, including President Street, while installing stormwater drainage systems and doing utility work associated with the Septima Clark Drainage and Transportation Improvement Project.
“The past two summers, we had almost three months total where you had real limited access to the restaurant,” Fallert said.
She said access issues started to exacerbate other issues, and it began to feel like the restaurant was “taking a beating every time you turn around.”
Fallert has thought about reopening the restaurant after the road work is complete, but she’s also concerned about labor and staffing issues getting worse. She said Charleston has a finite labor pool in food and beverage, and finding a cook trained to use a wok, a common tool in Chinese cuisine, is even harder to come by.
“To be a strong wok cook, that takes years and years. So we have made some adjustments,” she said, explaining that the restaurant trained its chefs. “We don’t have a large Asian population here like you do in other communities to pull from.”
At this time, Fallert said she doesn’t have plans for the empty restaurant space, on which she has a long-term lease.
“We are grateful to all the loyal patrons who have supported us since we opened our red door,” she said.