Sarah Wedl has dined at China Garden since before she was born.
Her mom and grandparents visited the restaurant with her mother was pregnant with Wedl.
After Wedl was born, her family went to the long-standing Frederick restaurant most Sundays after church. They sat in the back corner, a cozy spot for a casual family gathering. She ate there after she graduated from Hood College in 2018.
China Garden is the first place she ever tried sushi.
"I knew I was in good hands and that the fish would be the freshest, because of how meticulous the staff is," she said.
Between the family gatherings and attentive staff, the restaurant carved a special place in Wedl's heart. That's why she was so disheartened to hear the restaurant sustained extensive damage in a fire late Wednesday night.
"I mean, accidents happen, but it's not normally something that's top of mind. ... To see it suddenly damaged is heartbreaking," she said.
The restaurant, at 506 W. Patrick St., caught fire around 10:45 p.m. Wednesday and took about 60 firefighters approximately 25 minutes to extinguish, according to Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services Deputy Chief Steve Leatherman.
First responders found heavy fire in the rear kitchen area and fire through the roof, Leatherman said. No one was injured, he added. The fire marshal's office had not announced a cause of the fire as of Thursday afternoon. The fire marshal's office had not reported a damage estimate either.
But even before that information had been released, the community began rallying to support the Chiang family, which owns and operates the restaurant.
Wedl started a GoFundMe page with the hopes to raise $10,000 to help the restaurant cover any damage not covered by insurance.
"I chose to start a GoFundMe for the restaurant because it's just been a large part of my family's history," Wedl said. "But anyone who's ever had health, vision, or any insurance knows that they never cover everything in its entirety. It's not only fire damage that they have to deal with. It's also replacing dry goods, any equipment, any furniture, and also their employees are without work until the restaurant is back in business. Everyone needs a little extra help, and I wanted to give back to [the Chiang family] for all the years [they've] been feeding mine."
As of Thursday afternoon, the GoFundMe page had raised nearly $1,000. Wedl said she was still trying to get in touch with the owners of the restaurant to verify where to send the money. The family declined to comment for this story.
The Chinese restaurant opened in 1984 and is one of the longest-operating restaurants in Frederick. It will remain closed for the foreseeable future, according to an announcement on its Facebook page.
As news of the fire made the rounds, longtime customers expressed their condolences for the restaurant and praised the family for their service over the years.
"The staff and owners have always been great and deserve love from the community," said Nick Vattimo, who has eaten at the restaurant for the last six years, since his daughter was born.
Each year since, Vattimo and his family have celebrated Christmas by dining at China Garden. They visit family in Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve and drive home Christmas Day. After the traveling, they don't feel like cooking, so they celebrate at the restaurant.
Vattimo added that he hopes the family rebuilds and the community pitches in to help the restaurant get back on its feet.
For Wedl, the restaurant has long provided a sense of nostalgia that will now be lost. The interior hadn't changed much over the last 20 years, Wedl said. It made her feel at home and took her back to her childhood. She's carried her family tradition of dining at the restaurant on with her boyfriend, who she said is surprised her family has been dining at the same place for 30 years.
"He comes from a military family and kind of bounced around during his childhood," she said.
But regardless of the loss of nostalgia, if and when the restaurant reopens, she'll be in line.
It's the feeling of comfort, and home (and the food) that will keep her coming back.