Moorhead's Snap Dragon Asian Buffet approaches 20-year milestone

Over the years, the Shihs have discovered what works and what doesn't when it comes to the menu. For example, they've concluded American-style fried chicken isn't what people are looking for at an Asian buffet.

David and Kathlene Shih, owners of Snap Dragon Asian Buffet in Moorhead, on May 8, 2023.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

MOORHEAD — The Snap Dragon Asian Buffet is nearing its second decade in south Moorhead and owners Kathlene and David Shih know who is to thank for that kind of longevity — loyal customers.

And that was never more apparent than during the first years of COVID, according to David Shih, who said even when the business couldn't be open for sit-down dining customers would drop by nonetheless, just to make sure they were OK.

Snap Dragon Asian Buffet at 625 30th Ave S, in Moorhead on Monday, May 8. Dave and Kathlene Shih have owned and operated the restaurant since 2004.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

"That's what drove us on," he said, adding it was just about two months ago that the restaurant again began offering sit-down dining for lunch, following a break of almost three years.

The Shihs opened Snap Dragon in October 2004 in a building that had previously been a Village Inn restaurant.

Since then, they have persevered through a number of challenges besides COVID, including road projects that made it difficult for customers to reach their location at 625 30th Ave. S., in Moorhead.


Tulio Pereira stopped by Snap Dragon Asian Buffet for lunch on Monday, May 8. Pereira is from Brazil and is in town for business. He said he's eaten a few times at Snap Dragon when in town for work.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

And over the years they've experimented with what works and what doesn't when it comes to things like menu choices.

They've concluded, for example, that American-style fried chicken isn't something people are looking for at an Asian buffet.

The family's connection to the restaurant world reaches back to David Shih's grandfather, a chef who settled in Taiwan after fleeing Communist mainland China in the late 1940s.

Dave Shih, owner and operator of Snap Dragon Asian Buffet on Monday, May 8.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

Shih said his father followed in his grandfather's footsteps and became a chef as well, moving his family from Taiwan to the United States when David was a young boy.

Shih said his father opened a restaurant in Texas and growing up he and his three siblings, two brothers and a sister, worked in the family business.

It was also in Texas where he would later meet Kathlene, who is originally from Casselton, North Dakota, through mutual friends.

Just before the pair got married, they bought their own restaurant in east Texas and operated the business for about two years before deciding to move closer to Kathlene's family.

Not long after, they heard that the former Village Inn building, which also served for a time as a Chinese restaurant, was available and they went for it.


These days, David focuses on what's happening at the restaurant and Kathlene does the paperwork from home while also caring for the couple's three children, a 10-year-old and a pair of 8-year-old twins.

The Shihs say it's too early to know if any of the kids will take to the food business as a career, though Kathlene noted they are pretty proud of their dad.

"They think it's pretty cool their dad has a restaurant," she said, adding that when it comes to work ethic, the children couldn't have a better example than their father.

During times like these, when work force issues are epidemic, "David simply works more," said Kathlene, who along with her husband expressed gratitude for the fact they have a number of long-time employees to rely on.

Hugo Trujillo, a cook at Snap Dragon Asian Buffet, stocks the buffet on Monday, May 8.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

"My staff does a great job, from the kitchen to up front," David Shih said, adding that being a part of the lives of their customers and watching families grow is probably the best part about owning a restaurant.

"I like seeing our regulars. It's good to hear that people are happy when they leave here and they enjoy the food," he said.

Asked if there is a secret to keeping customers happy, David Shih said he focuses on two things: consistency and quality.

"We don't skimp, whatsoever," he said.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

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