To the sorrow of many South Side community members, the owners of Jenny’s Kuali, located at 102 E 4th St., have decided it is time to sell their restaurant.
The restaurant, which serves natural and affordable Malaysian cuisine, has been open since 2012. Just a few steps from Lehigh’s campus, Jenny’s has been frequented by students and South Side residents for nine years.
Owners Jenny and Roy Lim have become active members in the South Side community.
Jenny Lim said before COVID-19, their restaurant would be packed every weekend with people coming and going to events in the community. They would get so busy they would have to turn people away.
Today, it is a different story. With tables removed to comply with social distancing protocols and limited capacity, Lim said they have had to take advantage of city grants and Paycheck Protection Program loans over the course of the pandemic.
When the weather was more pleasurable, they were able to service outdoor seating, but have since had to eliminate that as well.
Between the two of them, the Lims have a combined 50 plus years of experience in the restaurant industry. This along with her husband reaching retirement age is what Jenny Lim said led to their decision to sell their restaurant.
“The move is so he can take a little time off and enjoy a little bit of time, since he has been working a lot of hours of hard work for many years,” Jenny Lim said.
With their business, the Lims have been able to support their children’s college educations, Jenny Lim said. Now that they have their own careers, she said it is time to slow down.
Jenny Lim said that she will miss the community and the support from their customers. This feeling has been reciprocated by community members as well, in missing the restaurant’s food and its active role in the community.
Missy Hartney, downtown manager for SouthSide Arts District and a patron of Jenny’s Kuali, said the restaurant has been a staple of the community.
“They enjoy their customers as much as their customers enjoy them,” Hartney said.
The restaurant has active Instagram and Facebook accounts. Hartney said they’re constantly posting on social media about how much they love their customers. SouthSide Arts District does interactive work with local restaurants and plans events throughout the year to showcase them, like First Fridays and Restaurant Week.
“When it comes to community art projects, the events that we have, they’re (Jenny’s Kuali) always a part of it, they’re always super excited to engage in the community and be a part of the community,” Hartney said.
Hartney said she was heartbroken to hear that Jenny’s Kuali would be selling because it was one of her favorite restaurants.
Kathy Fox, of the Bethlehem Food Co-Op, said Jenny Lim has also been very involved with them. She said Jenny Lim volunteers and has even offered to pay her employees’ first installment if they wanted to join the Co-Op’s member installment plan. The Bethlehem Food Co-Op is a community-owned grocery store that works to provide low-cost food to in-need community members.
“How many people do you know that are so generous in their heart that they would do something like that?” Fox said. “We may lose a restaurant but we certainly aren’t going to lose a supportive member.”
Throughout the pandemic, Jenny Lim said she has also created extra hours for her employees by doing some outside events, like having a table at the farmers market.
Jenny’s Kuali has packaged some of their signature sauces for sale and created and published a vegan cookbook during Summer 2020. Lim said she will continue to make the sauces and possibly a second edition of the cookbook after they leave the restaurant. She said that with the sale, she hopes Jenny’s Kuali can remain a Malaysian restaurant.
Since the announcement of their plans to sell the restaurant on Jan. 28, there has not been a publicized buyer, but the Lims remain certain the successor will have big shoes to fill.