Gina Mace

CUYAHOGA FALLS: A proposed right-turn lane on Bath Road at State Road could threaten a restaurant that has served customers for more than three generations.

The Cuyahoga Falls City Council this week passed a resolution of intent to pursue eminent domain against 12 property owners whose land is wanted for a $9 million State Road improvement project.

For now, the council has spared the Mandarin House property at State and Bath roads so negotiations can continue with restaurant owner Eddie Hwee.

As the plan stands, a right-turn lane proposed for Bath Road would take a huge bite out of the south side of the Mandarin House’s parking lot.

Hwee, owner of the property for 29 years, said he hopes something can be worked out. He said a recent meeting with Mayor Don Robart was promising.

“If I had four acres, I would try to get along and build the [parking] lot in the back,” Hwee said. “But I’m kind of [land] locked.”

The project to improve traffic flow along State Road extends from Graham Road to Steels Corners Road.

Hwee, 50, came to the United States from China when he was 9. He grew up in Cleveland, the second youngest of eight children. His parents owned a grocery business that supplied Chinese restaurants.

He said he learned the restaurant business from the sink forward, going to work with his waiter brother at the age of 12 to wash dishes. He worked his way through Ohio State University as a waiter.

Hwee’s brother bought the Mandarin House from its original owners. In 1983, Hwee and two partners bought the restaurant, and a few years later, he bought out his partners.

Hwee said the restaurant is his “home” and he fears he will lose it if he has to part with 20 parking spaces.

Some of his employees have been with the restaurant since before he took over.They now feed the grandchildren of some of his first customers.

Although he has a condo nearby, he said he spends most of his time at the restaurant.

“Anyone who wants to see me has to come here,” Hwee said.

He fears that the State Road improvements will do what a bad economy couldn’t do — close his business.

“I’m not objecting to the sidewalks and the bike path, even though it would cause me to lose five spaces,” Hwee said.

Some Falls council members — including Don Walters and Diana Colavecchio — are questioning the need for a right-turn lane on westbound Bath Road.

Colavecchio said no one she represents has ever complained about being stuck in traffic on Bath Road waiting to make a turn.

“I’ve had many people call and ask for a right-turn lane from Graham Road,” she said.

Councilman Terry Mader suggested that money could be saved if the right-turn lane is eliminated from the project.

But losing the turn lane could mean losing the entire project, Cuyahoga Falls engineer Tony Demasi said.

Funding was awarded for the project to make the area safer, he said. The right-turn lane is considered a safety measure.

Hwee just wants to continue to run his restaurant until he decides to retire.

“I don’t have a 401(k) or a retirement account,” he said. “This restaurant is my retirement.”