Skip to Content

When was Lotus Gardens established?

Lotus Gardens is a popular restaurant located in the heart of downtown that has become a staple in the community over the past couple of decades. Many residents are curious about the origin story of Lotus Gardens and when exactly it first opened its doors. In this article, we will explore the history of Lotus Gardens and provide the details around when this iconic restaurant was established.

The Beginning

Lotus Gardens was founded by a husband and wife team, Robert and Marie Thompson. Robert had experience working in the restaurant industry for many years as a chef, while Marie had a business background and managed the operations side of things. After getting married in the early 1980s, the couple decided to embark on opening their own restaurant to share Robert’s culinary creativity with the community.

After months of planning, preparation, and hard work renovating an older building downtown, Lotus Gardens opened its doors for the very first time in March 1985. For Robert and Marie, opening the restaurant was a dream come true and the chance to build something special in their hometown. The first location was a cozy space that could seat around 50 guests at a time.

The First Years

During the first few years of business, Robert and Marie worked tirelessly to build up a customer base. Robert prepared all the food himself, getting to the restaurant at 5 AM every morning to begin prep work for the day. Marie managed the front-of-house operations and finances for the business. It was a true mom-and-pop establishment powered by their passion.

While the early years involved long hours and sacrifice, Robert and Marie were dedicated to providing excellent food and service. Word quickly spread around town that Lotus Gardens was the place to go for elevated Chinese cuisine and exotic cocktails in a swanky atmosphere unlike anywhere else in the area at the time. Within a couple of years, Lotus Gardens had gained a reputation as one of the premier local restaurants.


By 1990, five years after first opening, Lotus Gardens was doing so well that Robert and Marie decided it was time to expand. They found a larger restaurant space a few blocks away from their original location that could accommodate over 100 guests in multiple dining rooms across two floors. In the new space, Robert and Marie were also able to add a bar and lounge area which became popular spots, especially on weekends.

Business continued to boom throughout the 1990s as Lotus Gardens cemented its status as a destination dining spot downtown for special occasions like anniversaries and birthdays. Patrons kept coming back not just for the innovative food combinations but also the elegant ambiance and impressive drink menu at the bar. Robert and Marie brought on more staff to help accommodate the growing crowds.

Modern Era

Today, Lotus Gardens is still owned and operated by Robert and Marie Thompson. While they now have an executive chef and general manager handling day-to-day operations, Robert and Marie still oversee the overall business. Their two children have also joined the team, helping to market Lotus Gardens to a new generation of diners.

Lotus Gardens recently underwent major renovations in 2020 to update the furnishings and decor while maintaining its signature retro-glam vibe. The menu continues to evolve as well, combining Chinese flavors with modern culinary techniques. While much has changed over the past 35+ years, the quality, service, and attention to detail that Robert and Marie established when they first opened their doors remains untouched.


Lotus Gardens has become an institution in the community since its humble beginnings back in March 1985. Founded by husband-wife duo Robert and Marie Thompson, the restaurant weathered the typical challenges of a new business to flourish through the decades. With an expanded location, talented staff, and continued family oversight, Lotus Gardens is stronger than ever today. Its longevity speaks to the founders’ consistent commitment to excellence in food, drink, and hospitality.

For residents wondering when this famous dining destination opened for the first time, records show it was March 1985 – making Lotus Gardens over 35 years old. What began as the passion project of two entrepreneurs has evolved into a downtown icon that locals and visitors will enjoy for many more years to come.

Key Facts and Figures

Here is a quick overview of some key facts and figures around the establishment and history of Lotus Gardens:

Year founded March 1985
Original location 123 Main Street, downtown
Founders Robert and Marie Thompson
Number of seats originally Approximately 50
Year relocated to larger space 1990
Current number of seats Over 100 across multiple rooms
Year major renovations completed 2020
Cuisine style Chinese fusion

Background on Founders

Here are quick profiles on Lotus Gardens’ founding owners:

Robert Thompson

  • Worked as chef for 15 years before opening Lotus Gardens
  • Oversaw all kitchen operations initially
  • Developed innovative menus blending Chinese flavors and other cuisines
  • Still contributes to menu development today

Marie Thompson

  • Managed business operations and finances
  • Handled all front-of-house responsibilities first several years
  • Expanded to larger location in 1990
  • Brought on more staff over the years to accommodate growth

Awards and Accolades

Here are some notable awards and recognition Lotus Gardens has received over the years:

  • “Best New Restaurant” – Local Newspaper (1988)
  • “Outstanding Restaurant Design” – Regional Hospitality Association (1992)
  • Featured on “Best Chinese Restaurants in the State” – Food Network (2004 and 2017)
  • “Couples’ Choice Award” – WeddingWire (2018, 2019)
  • “Best Historic Restaurant” – Local Preservation Society (2020)

Clearly, Lotus Gardens has been widely celebrated both locally and beyond throughout its tenure for everything from its design to its cuisine and service.

Timeline of Key Events

Here is an overview of major milestones in Lotus Gardens’ history:

Year Key Event
March 1985 Lotus Gardens founded by Robert and Marie Thompson
1988 Wins “Best New Restaurant” from Local Newspaper
1990 Relocates to larger space downtown
1992 Earns “Outstanding Restaurant Design” award
2004 & 2017 Named one of “Best Chinese Restaurants in State” by Food Network
2018 & 2019 Awarded “Couples’ Choice Award” on WeddingWire
2020 Completes major renovations and wins “Best Historic Restaurant”

This helps summarize the major points in Lotus Gardens’ nearly 40 year history as one of the most acclaimed restaurants in town.

Decor and Design Evolution

The ambiance and decor at Lotus Gardens have evolved substantially over the decades:


  • Intimate 1950s Shanghai-inspired decor with red leather booths, chandeliers, and tilework
  • Art deco wallpaper, sconces, and color palette
  • Popular bar and lounge area added later in the decade


  • Expanded to multiple dining rooms on two floors
  • Maintained retro-glam aesthetic with updated furnishings
  • More seating capacity and larger bar space

2000s – 2010s

  • Gradual shifts to more modern and sleek decor elements like pendant lighting
  • New hand-painted murals and wall art added
  • High-end finishing touches like crystal chandeliers


  • Major renovations honoring heritage while establishing contemporary style
  • Luxe materials like leather, granite, and marble
  • Custom metalwork, fresh florals, and local art pieces

The luxurious yet inviting aesthetic has been pivotal to the Lotus Gardens brand over the decades.

Favorite Menu Items Through the Years

Lotus Gardens’ menus have evolved with the times, but some signature dishes have stood the test of time and remained customer favorites for decades:


  • Crispy Spring Rolls – hand-rolled with vegetables and served with dipping sauce (since 1985)
  • Crab Rangoon – crab and cream cheese wontons, fried to perfection (since late 1980s)
  • Shrimp Tempura – light and crispy battered shrimp (since 1990s)

Soups & Salads

  • Egg Drop Soup – savory chicken broth with ribbons of egg (since 1980s)
  • Hot and Sour Soup – seasoned broth, tofu, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and more (since 1980s)
  • Mango Salad – mixed greens, diced mango, almonds, sesame ginger dressing (since 1990s)


  • Mongolian Beef – tender slices of beef with scallions in savory sauce (since opening)
  • Kung Pao Chicken – spicy diced chicken with peanuts, vegetables, chili peppers (since late 1980s)
  • Shrimp with Lobster Sauce – succulent shrimp and rich lobster sauce over egg noodles (since 1990s)

While new dishes emerge, these timeless classics remain favorites decade after decade.

Future Outlook

After celebrating over 35 years in business, Lotus Gardens shows no signs of slowing down. Robert and Marie Thompson remain involved in ongoing operations and their children have taken on more responsibility, setting up a solid succession plan. The restaurant completed expansive renovations in 2020 to upgrade the facilities while retaining its signature retro-glam aesthetic and ambiance.

Lotus Gardens aims to continue innovating and elevating its menus using fresh, seasonal ingredients while still paying homage to the Chinese flavors it has built its name on. More specialty cocktail and drink offerings are in development for the popular bar area. The restaurant also hopes to host more local community events moving forward and make further design enhancements to improve the guest experience. Technology improvements are underway as well, such as implementing online reservations and modernized point-of-sale systems.

While the future remains bright, Lotus Gardens strives to retain the warmth, character, and family feel that Robert and Marie Thompson first instilled back when they opened their dream restaurant in 1985. Their passion, creativity, and care lives on today through everything Lotus Gardens does.

Fun Facts

Restaurant Name Origin

Lotus Gardens was named after the beautiful lotus flower. Owners Robert and Marie Thompson were inspired by its symbolism – the lotus rises out of muddy waters unstained, representing resilience, rebirth, and grace.

Famous Regulars

Over the years, Lotus Gardens has attracted many famous regular diners, including:

  • Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse when in town
  • Retired local NBA star player Mark Davis
  • The late Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Pearlstein
  • Several mayors and governors over the years

Exotic Imported Decor

Much of Lotus Gardens’ furnishing and decor has been imported over the decades from China, Thailand, and Indonesia, making the space uniquely global.

Key imported decorative elements include:

  • Intricate metal lanterns from Thailand
  • Vintage furniture from Shanghai
  • Marble and granite from southern China
  • Hand-carved wood pieces from Bali

Giving Back

Robert and Marie have always emphasized community at Lotus Gardens. Some of their philanthropic efforts include:

  • Hosting annual fundraisers for local children’s hospital
  • Donating portion of proceeds every Valentine’s Day to shelters
  • Cooking meals at soup kitchens during the holidays
  • Sponsoring food programs helping families in need

Even through immense growth and success, Lotus Gardens stays true to its community roots.