Tall tales swirl around the dynamic figure known locally as AEKO, (an abbreviation of his real name, and pronounced “echo”) everyone’s favorite–and only–server at Asian Pearl. And some of them are true.
No, Indonesian-born Asep Komar doesn’t own the popular Chinese joint on Main Street. He’s not really the manager, and he’s definitely not the cook. But if you heard a story some 10 years back about a Zachary couple honeymooning in Bali, dancing at a club, and they looked over and saw AEKO partying too–well, that one is mostly true. He says he wasn’t really “partying,” but anyone who knows and loves him for the role he plays in daily life in Zachary would agree, the story’s much funnier if you picture him dancing in a club on a tropical island 10,000 miles from home and seeing an Asian Pearl regular.
AEKO has a knack for remembering customers’ favorite dishes, asking them as soon as they’re seated if they’d like, say, the Mandarin Chicken again, with Hot & Sour soup and a Sprite to start. Remembering
someone, making them feel important and appreciated in a basic transactional relationship – what a simple gesture that makes a world of difference.
Like restaurant servers everywhere, AEKO has dealt with rude customers. “I never respond in a combative way. I never respond in ignorance,” he says. “I like to show that you’re being served, you’re being loved, you’re being respected. If you don’t respect or love me, it’s not my problem,” he says.
AEKO came to the U.S. at age 20. One day, while working in a Chinese restaurant in Virginia, customers came in dressed in costume, and the personable waiter asked why. “They’d just come back from Mardi Gras,” he recalls. He’d never heard of it, but loved the way it sounded. As luck would have it, he got a call a few years later to help start a restaurant in Zachary. Here we are, 18 years later.
AEKO lives alone in Zachary, with no family anywhere around. “My customers are my family,” he says. “I feel included here. I’m so welcome, so loved. That’s why it’s my comfort zone. I’m stuck here!” he says, happily.