Zest for Life
Photos by Steve Randon
Juliana Chan loves to learn. Her passion for new adventures and opportunities to expand her mind is what gave her the confidence to leave her home and family in Hong Kong as a young bride and begin married life in a suburb of New Orleans. It’s what propelled her to open a small restaurant in Ponchatoula as a way to provide a livelihood for her five children and gave her the confidence to expand into a larger location in Hammond just three years later. It is what continues to drive her success with China Lotus and continued business growth with her most recent venture, Juliana’s Wedding and Event Center.
Building on lessons learned from parents who were shaped by post-war China and its fall to communism, Juliana grew up understanding the importance of self-sufficiency and the value of compassion. While many children were not given the opportunity to pursue formal education, Juliana attended a Baptist school in Hong Kong. Reinforcing their belief to share with others less fortunate, her family hosted many gatherings for friends and family where they would share meals and fellowship.
Looking back on the early years, Juliana had no idea the extent to which those experiences would influence her life and her career. The fact that she attended cooking school in Hong Kong before coming to the United States is perhaps the biggest example. Heeding her mother’s advice to learn skills that would take her far in life, Juliana applied to cooking school—not to become a professional chef, but simply to learn how to cook the meals she loved. “I realized the best way for me to eat the dishes I wanted was to learn to cook them myself,” she said. Her effort to become more independent and self-sufficient in her own kitchen is what gave her the confidence to open her restaurant’s kitchen all those years later.
In a similar way, Juliana’s exposure to Christianity while in school—paired with her parents’ Buddhist religion and her marriage to a Roman Catholic—has helped mold her own belief system. For someone who originally thought she did not want to have kids, she firmly believes the Lord put her on the earth to be a mother to her five children. “My purpose is very simple. My fundamental job, my calling, is to be a good mother. This is what drives me both personally and professionally,” she said.
“Family is the most important thing to me,” she continued. All my children—Garrick, Justin, Chanrina, Julina and Richina—have been such a support to me, especially through the tough times. A grouping of flowers in a vase is prettier that one alone. We get our strength and our beauty through one another.”
Beauty is something Juliana certainly can appreciate. She is drawn to the visual and performing arts and loves being involved in creative endeavors. From painting water colors to working on a pottery wheel, her interest is evident not only in China Lotus’ décor, but also in its motto, Where Cooking Becomes Art.
“We bring quality into the restaurant in everything we do. We start with high quality, fresh ingredients and prepare dishes to our exact specifications at the time of a customer’s order. Our dishes are specially blended, individual works of art, created by our talented chef Andrew (An Lam),” she said. Perfectly complementing the cuisine at China Lotus are Juliana’s hand-made pottery pieces and watercolors. The soft color palette was deliberately chosen by Juliana and Andrew when they moved to the Hammond location as a way to further separate China Lotus from the stereotypical buffet-style Chinese restaurant decorated in a harsh red and gold color scheme.
Juliana’s eye for design isn’t limited to the restaurant. Her talent in sewing and tailoring clothes has evolved into fashion design. “I have my own personal style and like that I can actually create clothing that shows off who I am. Whether I am working with patterns and starting from scratch or tailoring something I bought off the rack, I always add my own touch or embellishment for a distinctive look.”
After almost 30 years in the restaurant business, Juliana expanded her business horizons into wedding and events last year with Juliana’s Wedding and Event Center in Ponchatoula. Together with business partners Don Jones, Bill Hammack and Will Hammack and their executive chef Kevin Gregory, she is helping to create one-of-a-kind weddings, business dinners, cocktail parties and other special occasions for people across the Northshore.
As an avid ballroom dancer, Juliana jokes that one of the best things about owning Juliana’s is having a place where she can dance. “I feel invigorated when I dance. It’s a different feeling than I get when I paint, sew or put my hands on a potter wheel. Those hobbies calm me. Dancing exhilarates me. When I am all dressed up and twirling on the dance floor, I feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. I feel like Cinderella,” she said. “If I can make our brides and guests of honor feel that same way during their special events, then I’ve been successful.”