David Lin’s unlikely inspiration will likely change how you think of Chinese restaurants.
With an ideal location near Target on Old Hickory Boulevard, practically everyone in Brentwood has seen Fulin’s. But the experience created by the Lin family is likely to change the way you think about Chinese restaurants.
Founder David Lin discovered his calling in the restaurant business rather unexpectedly. A creative writer in China, he came to the United States shortly after Tiananmen Square seeking political asylum. He worked in various mom and pop Chinese buffets up and down the east coast to support himself, eventually moving to Tennessee to open a buffet in Clarksville. While the business was profitable, it did not fulfill what had become his dream.
Lin’s son Brandon, now Chief Marketing Officer of the Fulin’s chain explains, “My father felt there was a lack of passion in the food, service and presentation in the buffets. His vision was to serve high-quality food in an upscale restaurant for upscale clientele.”
That vision came to be Fulin’s which opened in 2005 in its current Brentwood location. The restaurant quickly expanded and the chain now has 10 stores in Tennessee and two in Alabama.
Fulin’s goal is to serve authentic Chinese cuisine the way it’s supposed to be done. Says Brandon Lin, “If you go to China and eat in an authentic restaurant, the food is outstanding. But the service is not. It’s just not part of the culture.”
Here the family tries to bridge the gap between cultures. They infuse southern hospitality and offer an upscale urban feel with conveniences such as online ordering and a new app for pickup orders.
While Brandon Lin believes his father is one of the best chef’s in town, he’s more focused on running the daily operations at Fulin’s. A 26-year-old graduate of New York University, when he immigrated to the United States in 2001 he did not speak a word of English. Now he’s fluent and a naturalized American citizen.
In the kitchen, Brandon Lin can prepare anything from sauces to sushi and even waits tables from time-to-time to stay in front of the customers. He says, “I’m born and bred in the restaurant business. I’d come home from school and do my homework in the kitchen. I enjoyed NYU and loved living that life. But this is what I know and Brentwood is home. I found myself missing the south. I’m really a Tennessee guy.”
It’s not all in the family for the Fulin’s chain, however. Lin’s Chief Financial Officer, Sam Chin also sought political asylum shortly after the uprising at Tiananmen Square. And even though they came to the United States about the same time, their paths didn’t cross until a chance meeting locally led them to become friends and business partners.
Both share similar business values. Lin explains, “In China, life was not simple. I came here to make a living. We must provide great food and service, but also provide good training and treat employees well. Bringing jobs to the community is as important as profit.”
And that’s the heart of the Fulin’s experience. Says Brandon Lin, “We try to set the bar high and present a restaurant that is nothing like Brentwood has ever seen. We strive to be the best in town.”