Mary Lau thought elbow grease could rid the smoke and water damage rioters and arsonists left behind last May and that her family would soon reopen the 14-year-old Peking Garden Restaurant in St. Paul's Midway Shopping Center.

The insurance company thought so too, and spent $40,000 on a salvage crew, only to have the building owner shut the strip mall, terminate all store leases and prepare for a new office, hotel and apartment village. But 14 months later, the scorched strip mall is still standing — fenced and empty — with no word on when bulldozers will arrive.

Meanwhile, Peking Garden moved on.

Lau, her five siblings and their spouses packed and moved thousands of dishes, silverware and equipment out of the Midway strip mall, into their home basements and a rented warehouse. They left behind scores of tables and chairs and $350,000 worth of improvements installed as recently as 2018.

"We were way underinsured. The insurance wasn't enough to cover relocating," said Lau. Her family scrambled to find a new place.

With funds from the Midway Chamber of Commerce, $60,000 in grants from the Asian Economic Development Association, gift cards from Sherwin Williams and other support, the Lau family landed just 2 miles east, at the corner of University and Western avenues — the former site of the ornate and mahogany-carved Mai Village Vietnamese Restaurant and the Tapestry Restaurant training center that followed.

The family started offering takeout-only service from the lobby on March 18. Regular customers flocked, at times jamming phone lines for hours. "The support was so much more than I expected," Lau said. "I am so grateful to all the customers."

But Lau, who moved to Minnesota from Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1991, really wanted to reopen as a full sit-down restaurant by May 1, before the anniversary of the George Floyd's killing and subsequent riots. As they served takeout food from the lobby, Lau, her husband, Lewis, sister-in-law Tina Wu, and other family members scrambled inside the seated dining room, ushering in contractors, installing lights, building the new lobster tanks, restaging the bar and Koi pond.

Their progress delights the Hmong American Partnership (HAP), which owns and leased the building and sold Peking Garden's contents at half cost. "It was a win, win for all. It is such a longstanding and much-loved restaurant in the Asian community," said Jodie Tanaka, HAP interim executive director.

Lau and Wu said they are happy to have landed in a good place and hope the new neighbors support the reopening long term. Even with the new loans, grants and other help, the riots and lack of insurance hurt. "By the time we finish, we will be short about $200,000," Lau said.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725