Atlanta Orders In: Fire Stone pushes through pandemic with fiery Sichuan cuisine

Wei Wei owns Fire Stone Chinese Cuisine in Kennesaw. CONTRIBUTED BY FIRE STONE CHINESE CUISINE
Wei Wei owns Fire Stone Chinese Cuisine in Kennesaw. CONTRIBUTED BY FIRE STONE CHINESE CUISINE

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

When she was 19, Wei Wei moved from her home in China’s Hunan province to Florida, where she studied tennis at a prestigious sports academy. Right away, she missed the comforts of home, especially the fiery-red chili oil and mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns.

After college, the tennis pro relocated to Kennesaw to work as a coach. “I was looking for authentic Chinese places to eat,” she said. “I couldn’t find any.”

She decided to get a job at a Chinese restaurant, so she could meet fellow expats and learn about Chinese culture in Atlanta.

A takeout order from Fire Stone Chinese Cuisine includes (clockwise from upper left) kung pao chicken, duck in stone pot, Hunan stir-fry with fish, red chili oil wontons, smoked tofu with shredded pork and bamboo shoots, and dan dan noodles. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
A takeout order from Fire Stone Chinese Cuisine includes (clockwise from upper left) kung pao chicken, duck in stone pot, Hunan stir-fry with fish, red chili oil wontons, smoked tofu with shredded pork and bamboo shoots, and dan dan noodles. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

That’s how Wei found chef Wen-Qiang Huang, a longtime associate of the peripatetic chef Peter Chang, who has opened Sichuan restaurants around the South. Together, Wei and Huang established Fire Stone Chinese Cuisine in Kennesaw in 2018.

Last April, in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution review, I awarded Fire Stone two stars, praising both Huang’s homestyle cooking and his showier presentations inspired by Chang.

In a recent interview, Wei, 31, described how Fire Stone has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Wei, who first picked up a tennis racket when she was 9 and started playing professionally at 14, believes her steely competitive streak has helped her push through the public-health crisis.

“I’m not weak,” she said. “If I have problems in front of me, I want to solve them. Tennis helped me become tough, and that’s helped me in my business.”

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Takeout makes up about 60 percent of current business at Fire Stone Chinese Cuisine in Kennesaw. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Takeout makes up about 60 percent of current business at Fire Stone Chinese Cuisine in Kennesaw. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

On March 18, Fire Stone pivoted to takeout and delivery only. By April 11, Wei and her team, concerned about health risks, had decided to suspend operations. On April 30, the restaurant reopened with a thoughtful carryout program — placing to-go orders on a table outside the front door for customer pickup. On June 22, Fire Stone reinstated table service. Wei estimated that takeout makes up about 60 percent of current business.

Inside the restaurant, the staff follows stringent safety precautions. Guests have access to hand sanitizer, and order from paper menus, which they can discard or take home. Servers constantly sanitize surfaces.

“Everybody wears a mask,” whether they work the front of the house or in the back, Wei said. “They wash their hands pretty much every time they touch something.”

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Among the dishes available for takeout from Fire Stone are dan dan noodles and wontons in chili oil. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Among the dishes available for takeout from Fire Stone are dan dan noodles and wontons in chili oil. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Before the pandemic, the restaurant employed 10-12 people; now, it runs on a staff of seven. Some employees aren’t ready to return to work, so Wei has had to hire new servers.

For the takeout program, Wei and her team have labored to package the food better, sourcing plastic containers with pierced lids (so steam can escape and food doesn’t get mushy) and packing boxes in brown-paper bags, which are stapled and secured in plastic outer bags.

Though revenue is down “at least 40 percent,” Wei and Huang are deeply grateful to have steady business. “We thank everybody for supporting us during this difficult time,” Wei stressed. “It’s because of all our customers that we survive today.”

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FIRE STONE CHINESE CUISINE

Menu: Sichuan and Hunan classics, plus some original chef creations

Alcohol: beer, wine and sake to go

What I ordered: spicy red chili oil wontons, dan dan noodles, duck in stone pot, smoked tofu with shredded pork and bamboo shoots, spicy Hunan fish, kung pao chicken. To me, everything was quite good. My next-door neighbor, who was based in China when the pandemic hit, tried the dishes and found them delicious, though not quite as nuanced as she experienced in Hunan.

Service options: dine-in, takeout or delivery via UberEats, DoorDash, Grubhub and Postmates; for pickup, call or order via website

Safety protocols: follows recommended CDC and government guidelines

Address, phone: 840 Ernest Barrett Parkway NW, Kennesaw; 678-324-0512

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays

Website: firestonekennesaw.com

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