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Tennis West Club Gets Culinary Upgrade With El Paso Entrepreneur’s Fifth Restaurant

El Paso restaurateur Fiean Liem wasn’t looking to open a fifth restaurant after the pandemic.

But he had a plan, shelved by COVID-19, that he needed to carry out.

It involves the nexus of two of his loves — food and tennis.

Starting a new restaurant is not easy. It’s even more challenging than getting a restaurant through a pandemic, said the soft-spoken Liem, who turns 55 in December. Ongoing problems finding employees and current inflationary pressures add to the difficulty, he said.

Restaurateur Fiean Liem sits on the extensive patio at his new restaurant, 40 Love at Tennis West, on Nov. 14, 2023. The club, which Liem also owns, is private but the restaurant is open to the public.

It’s also been hard to get Tennis West Sports and Racquet Club, a long-struggling private club nestled in the Upper Valley, financially fit, he said.

Liem, who loves to play tennis, quietly bought the 47-year-old club in 2016 from a friend, Henry Yoshawirja, an El Paso businessman involved in industrial real estate development and other ventures. He wanted out and approached Liem about buying the club.

“It became more and more apparent as we ran the club that we really needed to open up a restaurant” to bring in more revenue, Liem said.

That’s why in October, he opened 40 Love. (40-Love, or 40-0, is a winning score in a tennis match.)

Unlike the club, it’s open to the public.

He hopes it not only brings in restaurant patrons, but also new club members. Tennis West has been stuck at about 200 members for years. Tennis memberships run from $130 a month for single to $220 a month for family. It also has swim-gym memberships.

40 Love, a new restaurant open to the public at the Tennis West Sports and Racquet Club in the Upper Valley, has an extensive patio bordered by a pond and tennis courts, as seen Nov. 14.

Forty Love’s unique oasis

Forty Love serves what Liem calls modern American cuisine with an eclectic menu with Mediterranean and Asian influences.

“We have signature dishes from pastas to duck, we have octopus, seafood and steaks” on the fine-dining dinner menu, Liem said. It also has sushi four nights a week. The lunch menu has sandwiches, burgers, pizzas and several signature dishes, including green chili pasta.

Consistently good food is an obvious key to a restaurant’s success, Liem said. But he also strives to have something different at his five restaurants – two Koze Teppan Grills, Nomi and the Greenery Restaurant.

Forty Love’s unique feature is its extensive patio with trees and plants next to a large pond with water shooting from a fountain. The oasis also can be viewed through large glass doors and windows in the indoor dining area.

Some of the club’s 14 tennis courts border the patio, and nearby is a swimming pool open in the summer. The club also has two pickleball courts.

From engineer to restaurateur

Mark Heins, who in 2016 sold the long-established Greenery Restaurant in Sunland Park Mall to Liem, said Liem has proven to be an adept restaurateur.

“You have to respect anybody and everybody who can keep the doors open, especially in challenging times. And these last five years have been very challenging across the board. If it wasn’t COVID, then it was inflation ― that was a death knell for a lot of restaurants,” Heins said.

Heins returned to El Paso in June from Colorado after spending several years as culinary director for Fins Restaurant Group. He’s now this area’s new business developer for food distributor Sysco Corp.

Liem started his first restaurant, the West Side Koze Teppan Grill, in 2008, as he prepared to leave his engineering career in 2010 to pursue his new path, fueled by his desire to be in the hospitality industry. He also loves cooking.

The Indonesian-born Liem emigrated to the United States in 1986 to get his electrical engineering degrees at Florida Tech and Purdue. He worked 20 years for the former Delphi Automotive, including 10 years at its design center in Juárez.

40 Love restaurant owner Fiean Liem helps manage lunch orders Nov. 14, 2023.

Engineer’s mindset nets Greenery, Tennis West

Liem’s engineer’s mindset — to fix things and make them run better — was at the heart of his decisions to buy Tennis West and the Greenery.

His love of tennis, which, he said, gives him sanity, also played a part in buying the tennis club, where he and his wife became members in 2015.

“When these two businesses came up, I did my due diligence, and I said, ‘Hey, I can probably turn (these) around.'”

Liem’s wife, Sharon, an active partner in the couple’s ventures, said, “When he (Fiean) sees something he can improve, his brain starts working.”

She was against buying the club when the owner indicated it was losing money, but her husband’s optimism that it could be turned around won the day.

Sharon Liem, who operates the 40 Love restaurant at Tennis West with her husband, Fiean Liem, makes a coffee for a customer Nov. 14, 2023.

At the Greenery, Liem said he redid the menu and made other changes that, he said, have finally paid off, with the restaurant now thriving after some difficult years.

Dealing with the American food menu at the Greenery helped Liem develop the American menu at 40 Love. His first three restaurants serve Asian food with variations.

Heins said every restaurant needs to be changed over the years to stay relevant. The changes appear to be good for the Greenery, he said. Heins hasn’t been to 40 Love yet, but friends and a family member gave it good reviews, he said.

40 Love Head Chef Daniel Figueroa prepares dishes for customers on Nov. 14, 2023.

‘Labor of love’ won’t reap immediate rewards

At Tennis West, interior clubhouse finishes were updated over several years, and two to three tennis courts are renovated yearly, Liem said.

“This is a long-term project. I don’t see getting the (invested) money back for a long time,” Liem said. “It’s a labor of love.”

Heins, who by happenstance, ran Tennis West’s first restaurant for a few months in 1980 when general contractor Paco Jordan owned it, said a good restaurant is an important amenity for a sports club. Tennis West hasn’t had one for years, Liem said.

“We did a lot to make it so we have a chance to turn it around, and I think this restaurant is the last step in (making) the club to be more viable,” LIem said. “Time will tell.”

Source : El Paso Times