The Red Dragon Restaurant in Weaverville
● By Kimberly Boney
Serving Up Kindness
Story by Kimberly Bonéy
Photos by Ronda Alvey
HE HAD NO IDEA where he was. He only knew that he had been riding the bus and had landed in Weaverville with only a long-sleeved shirt, a backpack and a ukulele. René Wallace was on duty at The Red Dragon that evening, waiting tables in the dining room of the quaint restaurant in the old brick building. She greeted him with a warm smile, and, in a gentle voice, asked the young man, barely 18, where he was traveling from. He had come all the way from his home in the Midwest by bus and was anxious to get to his grandmother’s house in San José. And here he was, stuck overnight, in this place.
Wallace, having been raised in Weaverville, knew that a cold October night couldn’t be endured with a mere long-sleeved shirt. She quickly made a call to her husband, asked him to bring the young man a coat and arranged for him to stay overnight at her home. She seated him at a table and quickly disappeared into the kitchen. A few minutes later, she emerged with a hot plate of shrimp fried rice for him, food prepared lovingly by the hands of Von and Thong Duangmalay, the owners of The Red Dragon. Between bites, he quietly strummed his ukulele as two ladies sat at an adjacent table, admiring the kindness they had just witnessed, tears welling in their eyes.
“He ended up staying two nights with us. He sang and played his ukulele. I wish I was still in touch with him. If my kids were out in the cold somewhere, I’d want someone to be kind to them,” says Wallace.
“That’s the example we’ve seen here, working with Von and Thong,” she continues, humbly. “On many occasions, someone has come through town that has asked to work here at the restaurant in exchange for food. They always find a way to help. The family is just like that. What I did was by their example.”
This is the essence of The Red Dragon Restaurant. The spirit of kindness and family was born more than 25 years ago, back when The Red Dragon was called Hunan’s and was located at the other end of Main Street. At that time, it was owned by Daniel and Sang, family members of the Duangmalays. Daniel and Sang’s children grew up in that restaurant, and the couple employed countless locals through the years, building a legacy of family that extended far past biological connection.
Six years ago, when the Duangmalays took over the business, they made a point of treating their employees like family. “They have something made to share with us when we come to work. They have hearts of gold,” says Wallace.
The Red Dragon can be counted on for its tried-and-true menu, which features a diverse range of both Chinese and Thai dishes, recipes passed down from Daniel and Sang to the Duangmalays. The Tom Ka Gai, a famous Thai soup infused with coconut milk, lemongrass and tamarind, is the most popular menu item, and is Wallace’s personal favorite. Other well-loved menu items are the seafood platter and the Double-Faced Noodles, a dish featuring chicken, prawns, beef and vegetables, sautéed over crunchy Chinese noodles. The sticky rice with mango, a traditional Thai dessert, is not to be missed. As for the Duangmalays, the rice noodle soup is the dish they enjoy the most.
Even with the plethora of Chinese and Thai restaurants in the Bay Area, visitors from four hours away insist that The Red Dragon, tucked away in the Trinity Alps, is their favorite. The locals love it, too. “We have our regulars. There are people that walk in and I don’t have to take an order for them because I already know what they are having,” says Wallace. “In fact,” she adds, “The Red Dragon rarely makes changes to the menu because the regulars have their hearts set on their favorites.”
From the outside, the building is unassuming – a small sign hangs outside in hand-painted red lettering. But the walls have seen years of hardship, endurance and love. The building has been there since 1855, since the days of stagecoaches and gold panning. In its 164-year life span, the building has been home to a brewery, a feed store, an office building and a restaurant called The Brewery, known for having a whole wagon suspended from its ceiling. In 1998, it became the home of The Red Dragon.
The wall of the main dining room is adorned in a mural that reflects the history and cultural diversity of the town. Its provincial images are illuminated by the shining crystals from vintage chandeliers. The mural doesn’t appear to be signed anywhere, something that has even piqued the curiosity of the restaurant staff. Even without a signature, it leaves a lasting impression. It’s an enduring tribute to the rich Chinese heritage of Weaverville.
The Red Dragon is just across the street from The Joss House, an active Taoist temple. During Chinese New Year Celebrations in Weaverville, The Red Dragon stays open after the lion dance to encourage the spirit of “Gung Hay Fat Choy” (Happy New Year). But The Red Dragon isn’t just enchanting because of its delicious food and its proximity to a historical gem like The Joss House. It’s the people, the love and the kindness that radiate from within the walls of The Red Dragon that truly embody the spirit of Weaverville, California. •
The Red Dragon • 625 Main St., Weaverville