Since 1982, Duck Chang Jr.’s life has revolved around operating the popular Peking Duck Restaurant in Hybla Valley.
But three heart attacks in recent years and other health issues have slowed Chang, forcing him and his family to temporarily close the Richmond Highway restaurant on multiple occasions.
The last such closure came in mid-December. Chang had hoped to recuperate enough to re-open in the spring.
Instead, a warning from his doctor in March led Chang and his family to make the decision: It was time to permanently close the restaurant. An answering machine message and signs posted on the entrance doors now thank customers for their patronage, saying it was “our honor and our privilege to have served this community for the last 37 years.”
Reached by phone on Sunday, Chang confirmed the news and said the decision was particularly tough because of his personal bond with the area.
“We have watched the corridor change over the years,” Chang said. “We grew old together. I feel very much like part of the community … and they are part of my family.”
Chang, who is in his 60s, has spent his most of his life in restaurants, starting as a teenager working for his dad in China. He had hoped to keep working “until a ripe old age,” but after the winter layoff, his physician said it was still too dangerous to return to work full-time.
“The doctor told me I cannot keep on doing what I have been doing and expect to get away with it health-wise,” said Chang.
Chang has managed the Alexandria location since it opened in March 1982 at 7531 Richmond Highway. Prior to that he worked with his father, Duck Chang Sr., who opened Duck Chang’s in Annandale in 1975. That restaurant remains open and is operated by Chang’s brother, Peter.
Duck Chang Sr. began working in local restaurants in 1968 and became renowned for his ability to prepare a Peking duck without 24 hours notice. He worked at restaurants in Washington D.C. and Old Town Alexandria before striking out on his own in 1975, and his son said many customers followed him from location to location.
“He was the first one to prepare the duck in 6-8 hours,” Chang said. “Prior to his arrival in the United States, you had to order it in advance.”
The elder Chang, who passed away in 2005, taught his sons the craft, and they kept the two Northern Virginia locations going strong for decades. Chang Jr. said the family has been in the restaurant business for seven generations, calling it “a way of life.”
“To us there’s no better place that we’d want to be than in restaurant,” Chang said. “The minute I walk into a kitchen, I feel so content.”
Duck Chang Jr. said he plans to keep working at the Annandale location a few days a week as his health improves. Since he became sick, Chang said many customers from Alexandria have reached out to him through the Annandale restaurant to convey their best wishes. He said those calls and messages have bolstered his spirits.
It’s that connection to the community, Chang said, that made running Peking Duck so rewarding for so many years.
“We have a lot of customers who used to come in with high chairs and now they’re bringing their kids in with their own chairs,” Chang said. “That’s the hard part of closing the restaurant. They’re more like my extended family than customers.”