Devoted is used to convey love or loyalty, and while David and Laurel Shao have that for each other, they also run a family business under the name and mantra.
The Shaos own the Asian Market in downtown Stillwater, a white brick grocery store where they sell fresh produce and rare Asian items. While most residents are familiar with the store front, some may not be familiar with the Asian restaurant, Devoted, attached to the back.
Devoted is Asian-inspired cuisine and Shaos serves Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine. They opened on September 21 and they’ve seen community members go from just wanting to try something new to regular customers with a specific order. Students sit at the bar with friends while they make small talk and use chopsticks.
“We are devoted to God first,” Laurel Shao said. “But then we’re dedicated to building meaningful relationships with people and we think that’s our calling.”
The Shaos are Christians and their religion is evident throughout the restaurant, starting with the name and the mission. The name Consecrated comes from a Bible verse in Colossians, which reads: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, watching over it with thanksgiving.” She said they try to implement this verse in all aspects of their lives.
“But we’re also committed to making sure we have high-quality food and service,” Laurel Shao said.
Devoted is the epitome of a family restaurant. David and Laurel Shao’s parents and their three oldest children work in the restaurant and at the market.
From Monday morning to early Saturday morning, large shiny metal pots hold cooking broth in the Devoted open kitchen. Customers can see their food being cooked and easily interact with kitchen staff and servers. From the Asian market, customers can smell the pork-based broth, fresh vegetables and Asian seasonings.
“We are not who you think we are,” said David Shao. “We try to do things that are not predictable.”
Laurel Shao walks around the restaurant with a notepad in one hand and a pen in the other. Although she wears a mask, customers can see the smile lines under her eyes and her cheekbones lift when she interacts with people. She saves two seats at the bar, periodically straightening the silverware and the reservations menu.
“Stillwater has almost every franchise restaurant you can find, but we’re a rare thing as a family-run store,” David Shao said.
Two women stand at the entrance to the restaurant and Laurel Shao greets them enthusiastically. She places them in the two well-prepared seats and without looking at the menu they order.
Audrey Sexton, a childhood friend of the Shao’s eldest daughter, Jenevie, cheered as Laurel Shao served her a steamy bowl of traditional ramen and pork dumplings.
“I was craving the pork balls,” Sexton said. “Every time I come here, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I need it, give me some dumplings.'”
Audrey and her mother have the menu memorized, and customers and kitchen staff immediately greet them when they sit down. Besides the food, Sexton said the community Shaos are building is the second best thing about Devoted.
“They put a lot of time and effort into pretty much everything they do,” Sexton said.
The family built the restaurant themselves and the project took years. The restaurant was ready for customers a month before the grand opening, which was postponed due to COVID. Laurel Shao said she decided to open the restaurant when she knew community members felt comfortable dining, and even then some weren’t ready to commit to the space. very united.
The design of the restaurant is designed to allow conversations. The seats are close, tight and personal. A handmade wooden bar is set from the back door of the restaurant and curves towards the center of the restaurant. Most of the seating is placed around this bar, which the family cut from Oklahoma walnut wood, dried for two years and sanded down.
Laurel Shao used three words to describe the construction of the restaurant: blood, sweat and tears. As she laughed at her description of the process, David Shao nodded seriously.
“Seeing it from a parking lot and transforming it from a concrete slab into a building is my greatest pleasure,” said David Shao. “I like to see something build.”
Small pieces of the family can be found in the restaurant and the market, including a photo of their eldest daughter taped to the cash register in the market and a cat drawing on the ice cream fridge in place of a label. Kimberly Ojeda, a senior at Oklahoma State University, said these staples give companies a euphoric feeling.
“I go to the Asian Market for kitchen staples or things that I can’t find anywhere else in Stillwater,” Ojeda said. “They sell hard-to-find dried mushrooms at a good price. Sprouts sells them but it’s like four or five mushrooms for $7. At the Asian market I can get a big pack for $10 and they last longer.
Ojeda said his college friends buy rare Asian items at affordable prices from the Asian market. Black bean noodles and honeydew popsicles are Ojeda’s favorite items, which she buys in bulk because she can’t find them anywhere else in Stillwater.
“The cultural cuisine that they sell and cook is important in Stillwater because people need to know more about different types of food,” Ojeda said.
The meals served at Devoted could encourage customers to purchase rare items from the Asian market. Ojeda said she was inspired to buy Pho rice noodles that she tried at Devoted. Since then, she said she had to keep them at home for cravings.
Although there is an established menu, the Shaos like to cook rare dishes to surprise regular customers.
“Something really popular is called a sash bow, it’s a steamed pork belly and it sort of has a sequel,” Laurel Shao said.
The Shaos only cook Char Siu Boa when they have enough pork, and they notify eager customers on Instagram the day the item is prepared. They sold Char Siu Boa the first time it was served in the kitchen. Laurel Shao said some clients would brag about having one on social media.
Although Laurel Shao said her favorite menu item was Pho, David Shao said he didn’t have a favorite.
“They’re all special,” David Shao said.
Opposites attract is the best way to describe Laurel Shao’s bubbly personality in contrast to David Shao’s determined and serious nature. Laurel Shao laughs as she urges David to speak up.
The Shaos met and married in San Francisco, where David Shao grew up. Laurel Shao grew up in Stillwater and graduated from Oklahoma State University, and she said she wanted to raise a family in the town where she grew up, so David Shao followed her.
In 2004, they opened their first restaurant, Crepe Myrtle, an American-inspired restaurant, where they served dinner fare including burgers and pancakes. It was then that the family established a reputation in Stillwater for serving home-cooked meals, natural ingredients and fresh produce. Laurel Shao said she remembers waking up every morning in 2004 to bake bread for the restaurant.
The work quickly became too heavy for Laurel Shao, then pregnant. So they decided to close the restaurant. Laurel Shao wanted to stay home more often and focus on her children, but the family needed another business to make ends meet. The Shaos decided that a grocery store would allow Laurel Shao to stay home more often and give David Shao the opportunity to continue working to pursue his dream of owning a business.
“In his heart, he loves restaurants,” Laurel said. “And I guess he has an entrepreneurial spirit, because he’s been thinking about having this restaurant for seven years.”
On the grand opening night, there were long lines of people familiar with Shaos affairs. Laurel Shao said she was surprised to hear that people remembered Crepe Myrtle, and she was happy to know that the same people came because of their interest in supporting the family business, even 17 years later. .
“They were like, ‘Oh, I remember when you were pregnant,’ or, ‘I remember your kids.'” Laurel Shao said. “And I look at my kids like wow they’re 17 now.”
After talking to Crepe Myrtle fans, the Shaos hosted a pop-up shop in January with some of the Crepe Myrtle community’s favorite items.
Landon Thomas, a student at Oklahoma State University, said he was a picky eater but could always count on Devoted to serve fresh food.
“I wasn’t around when Crepe Myrtle was a restaurant, but at the pop-up shop I had the best burger I’ve had in a long time,” Thomas said. “I wish this restaurant was still here. Well, probably not, it wouldn’t be good for my wallet or my waist.
Laurel Shao said it’s important to her and David Shao to cook and host events that their customers will enjoy. She said the community keeps businesses open, but it also makes her happy and fulfilled.
“I mean, we can’t all go out and do something wonderful, but we can make some kind of difference in our interactions,” Laurel Shao said. “Whether it’s in our work in the market, in the conversations we have when we serve people, or when we cook food, in everything we do, we just try to be nice people and serve them with love .”