By Helen Porskova
Tucked beside Jersey Mike’s on Hempstead Turnpike, you’ll find Grain House – one of many off-campus dining establishments offered to Hofstra students. With smooth steel tabletops and a giant teddy bear resting in the corner, the spacious restaurant provides attentive service and a refreshing break from the surrounding traditional American fast food.
“We have a more traditional style,” Beichen Hu, the owner of the restaurant, said. “It’s not cooked by sauce and everything is fresh. We do a more authentic Szechuan style which is different from other takeout restaurants.”
Grain House has garnered reviews from sources like Newsday and has even expanded to have a location in Queens. If you’ve ever had hot-pot in Flushing, this is the same style of cooking they utilize there; they go for a casual dining feel, comparing their restaurant to locations like Panera. However, Grain House is unique in its attention to both American and international customers.
Hu explained that before Grain House was established, Burger-Fi was in its location and didn’t do as well financially. So far, Grain House has been doing much better in attracting international students and offering new types of cuisine for American students to try.
Glancing at his menu, I noticed Chinese characters alongside their English counterparts explaining what was in each dish.
“About half of our customers are international students,” he informed me. “But with all our American customers, I had to expand the menu.”
When asked why they chose this location, Hu told me that he expected Hofstra’s international students to become his base customer. When they opened in March of last semester, Hu had international students, mainly from China, coming into his restaurant, but he was surprised to see so many American customers coming in too.
Hu noticed a difference in American customers’ preferences, noting that non-international student customers tended to stay safe with more Americanized dishes such as sesame chicken and General Tso’s chicken. However, when asked about the more authentic Szechuan cuisine he responded, “International students, especially my Chinese customers, usually prefer the spicier items such as hot-pot or cooked pork belly.”
One of his goals has always been to have non-Chinese customers expand their flavor palette by going for more genuine Szechuan cuisine. He even offered me some free dishes which I declined as he rationalized, “We’ve had a few people try new dishes and really like them. They say, ‘I don’t want sesame chicken anymore.’ They say screw it and go for something like Kung Pao chicken.”
Hu hopes to dispel any preconceptions Americans have about Chinese cuisine and encourages everyone visiting to step out of their comfort zone when ordering because they Hu recommends customers “Try the chicken with garlic sauce, if you like chicken. The spicy beef noodle soup is a lot like Japanese ramen. It’s a great lunch option.”
Grain House also offers a vegetarian menu for anyone looking for a meat-free bite off campus. He encourages customers from all sorts of cultural backgrounds to discard their notions of what their favorite Chinese dish is and try something new. For anyone looking for authentic Szechuan cuisine or simply a new dish to try, check out Grain House’s affordable off-campus options.