Karen and Roger Lin are the new owners of Fantasy Island, which reopened in February. 

Yan China Bistro’s owners now operating Fantasy Island

By STACEY MARCUS

When Karen and Roger Lin moved to the United States from Southern China 21 years ago, the young couple worked together at a Chinese restaurant in Arlington. Roger honed his cooking skills in the kitchen while Karen worked in the front of the restaurant learning about operations and customer service. Six years later, they found a spot on Lewis Street in Lynn and opened Yan’s Cafe, a takeout restaurant featuring Chinese and Vietnamese favorites.

Five years later, in 2007, the couple launched Yan’s China Bistro where their customers could dine in and also take food out. For the past decade, Yan’s China Bistro has been a cherished spot for customers to enjoy fresh and flavorful Vietnamese, Thai, Szechuan and Cantonese-style Chinese food as well as Polynesian favorites in a cozy and inviting spot at 146 Humphrey St.The couple recently purchased Fantasy Island at 516 Loring Avenue in Salem and is looking forward to writing the next chapter of their success story.

Fantasy Island's scoprion bowl.

Fantasy Island’s scorpion bowl.

“Fantasy Island has such wonderful employees and loyal customers,” says Karen. “We are excited to continue Debbie Lam’s legend she created over the last 38 years.”

While Yan’s China Bistro seats 46 people, Fantasy Island seats 284. Fantasy Island’s menu is brimming with Cantonese-style food and traditional Polynesian favorites like chop suey and chow mein.

Karen is always delighted to create bespoke dishes for customers and accommodates diners who are gluten-free, vegetarian, looking for heart-healthy or low-carb options or who are on special diets.

“We love making dishes according to the customer’s request,” says Karen, adding that one of her customers, Patty, adores the Vietnamese spicy vegetable soup specially prepared for her with rice noodles so they named the fusion “Patty’s Soup.”

Karen notes that she will not be eliminating items from the Fantasy Island menu, but enhancing the Polynesian and Cantonese food selection with a combination of Vietnamese and Thai foods. Along with additional parking, customers visiting Fantasy Island will also enjoy a full bar and Karaoke every Friday and Saturday night.

Fantasy Island's Gai Po Lo Mein with an edible orchid.

Fantasy Island’s Gai Po Lo Mein with an edible orchid.

“I am so happy that all the staff is staying,” Karen says. Jimmy Lee, who has worked at Fantasy Island for 17 years and knows most of the customers by name will happily continue greeting guests, as will bartender JoAnn who he jokes, “came with the furniture.”

Karen is excited to realize her fantasy of expanding the business. When she and her husband first arrived, neither could speak English. The couple quickly learned not only the language, but acquired skills to operate a successful business and make customers feel like part of the family by serving fresh food and delivering great service.

Her brother-in-law, Zhang Lin, will join Roger in the kitchen at Fantasy Island. Her sister, Lanyun Lin, and Lin’s husband, Jian, and brother, Jinfeng, can be found at Yan’s China Bistro. Karen’s parents, Shiying and Yueying Lin, have helped the couple raise their two children, Sophia and Jonathan.

hildren, Sophia and Jonathan. I remember watching Sophia, who is now 17, joyfully color pictures while her family happily prepared flavorful dishes. I recall once getting a fortune that read: “Working hard will make you live a happy life.” One look at Karen’s ear-to-ear smile makes me think this message is her manta. I don’t need a cookie to reveal the fortune of customers at Fantasy Island. “Good food and friendly service will be lovingly delivered.”

Photos: Paula Muller and Reba Saldanha

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