Thursday, March 26, 2020

The First Chinese Restaurants Outside Boston (Part 4--Fall River)

Where were these first Chinese restaurants located? When did they first open? Did they have difficulties in the cities and towns where they were situated? What are their stories?

I've previously written a five-part series, The First Restaurants In Boston's Chinatownand I'm now expanding my coverage to include the rest of Massachusetts. This is a work in progress, and I'll be adding additional cities and towns in the future parts of this new series. The Part 1 dealt with Cambridge and Fitchburg;  Part 2 dealt with Pittsfield and Malden; and Part 3 dealt with Springfield. Part Four will now deal with Fall River.


The first Chinese restaurant in Fall River appears to be the Me Nam Low. The Fall River Daily Evening News, November 23, 1898, published an advertisement for this “First Class Chinese Restaurant,” located at 132 Second Street. The Fall River Daily Evening News, February 3, 1899, presented another ad for Me Nam Low, noting that it served Chinese and American dishes, for both lunch and dinner. he

Trouble at Me Nam Low. The Fall River Daily Evening News, January 3, 1901, reported that Michael Cox and a friend ate chop suey and drank tea at Me Nam Low. The two men, who were drunk and obnoxious,  tried to leave without paying their 70 cents bill. The police arrived and told the two men to pay their bill or get arrested, so they decided to pay the 70 cents. However, the two men returned to the restaurant later, demanded $1.50 back, but they were refused. So, Cox hurled a big jackknife and a stone through the glass panels of the restaurant, and he was arrested the next day. As he already have a lengthy criminal records, he we sentenced to 6 months in the house of corrections.

A second Chinese restaurant opened in 1901. The Fall River Daily Evening News, February 18, 1901, printed an ad for Charlie Wong, Chinese Restaurant, located at 170 South Main Street. The ad stated,  “Meals at all hours of the day.”

A year later, Charlie Wong moved the restaurant. The Fall River Daily Evening News, April 10, 1902, published an ad mentioning that Charlie Wong, a “Chinese Order Restaurant,” was now located at 22 North Main Street.

What went on in the private rooms? The Fall River Daily Evening News, April 28, 1902, reported that the police commissioner had recently ordered that the private stalls in the two Chinese restaurants had to be removed. Each restaurant had a number of small rooms or semi-private stalls, and the police alleged they were popular with a "certain class of women." The police also alleged they heard of much carousing in these rooms, patrons smoking and carrying liquor into these rooms. I'll note that these alleged problems had only occurred in a little over a year, and the second restaurant had only been open less than a month. A hearing was granted on this matter, allowing the restaurant owners to respond.

It was later reported that the commissioner won, and those private stalls all had to be removed. This would not be the last time that the police took significant action against the Chinese restaurants in Fall River. For some reason, they felt they needed to take major control of the situation, which seemed likely due more to racism than for legitimate concerns.

The Fall River Daily Evening News, July 5, 1902, noted how the two Chinese restaurant owners helped run a 4th of July celebration. “The nearest to the real thing in the way of a Fourth of July celebration in the center of the city was that furnished by the proprietors of the two Chinese restaurants…” The owner of one restaurant started the celebration at 8pm, and other restaurant waited until later so they didn’t conflict. Part of the celebration included firing off Chinese crackers and other fireworks.

Another new restaurant. The Fall River Daily Evening News, November 24, 1902, published an ad for a new Chinese & American restaurant, located at 44 Pleasant Street, which opened on November 10.

And one more new restaurant. The Fall River Daily Evening News, May 1, 1907, printed an ad for the Oriental Chinese Restaurant, located at 16 South Main Street. It offered a Special Course Dinner for only 15 cents, primarily American dishes.

The Fall River Globe, December 24, 1902, noted that the Chinese restaurant at 44 Pleasant Street, which was owned by Goon Wing Tong and opened last month, had gone out of business and their license was revoked. That was rather quick and no reasons were given as to why it had to close.

People need to pay their checks. The Fall River Daily Evening News, December 29, 1902, reported that five men at the Second Street restaurant were asked to pay an additional 5 cents due for their chop suey dinner. A fight resulted and the five men were arrested and charged with disturbance and assault. They claimed that a single Chinese waiter beat them all up, but the waiter had a black eye and cut scalp. In the end, one of the men was fined $20, two were fined $10, and two were let go.

Women fought at these restaurants too. The Fall River Daily Evening News, April 14, 1905, detailed that Delphine Sirois and Mary Belford were arrested for a disturbance at a Chinese restaurant on Second Street. Allegedly, Belford and a male friend entered the restaurant but he chose to give his attention to Sirois, who was already dining there. Then, Belford announced to everyone in the restaurant that Sirois was a jailbird. The fight became physical, and the two women were eventually fined $15 each.

Wedding bells! The Boston Globe, June 24, 1905, noted that Joe Gong, age 28 and the owner of a Chinese restaurant at 16 Pleasant Street, was going to marry Rose Benoit, age 20 and a white woman of 16 11th Street. Joe applied for a marriage license in Springfield but actually planned to marry Rose in Providence, as they were unable to find a local minister to perform the ceremony. So, the Springfield had to be torn up as they only issue them for marriages taking place in the city.

The Fall River Globe, June 27, 1905, then mentioned that Joe Gong, was married yesterday in Providence, Rhode Island, by Rev. Plummer who has acquired a reputation for "marrying lots of couples irrespective of nationality or color." The new couple planned to settle down at her residence at 67 11th Street. It was legal for mixed race couples to get married in Massachusetts, but apparently few ministers were willing to marry those couples. So, Chinese men marrying white women commonly went down to Providence to be married, often by Rev. Plummer.

More trouble with the police. The Fall River Globe, April 22, 1908, reported on a meeting of the police board, as well as mentioning how the police previously were able to get the two Chinese restaurants to tear out their private stalls. Now, the board has just issued permits to the local Chinese restaurants, with the caveat that the permits would end on May 1, 1909, and at that time, they would no longer be permitted to operate on the second floor. They would have to relocate to the ground level. No actual evidence was submitted to support any rationale for this relocation demand.

A year later, the Fall River Daily Evening News, April 2, 1909, followed up on the legal matter. “Upon issuing licenses to Chinese restaurants one year ago, the board of police stated that at the expiration of said licenses no more would be issued to such restaurants to do business above the ground floor. Practically all the Chinese restaurants are on the second floor,…” There were currently four Chinese restaurants at this time and they were trying to get the police board to rescind the order. It was noted in an April 3 edition, that none of these restaurants had ever served alcohol.

A decision was made. The Fall River Daily Evening News, April 24, 1909, reported that the police board had granted permits for Chinese restaurants on the second floor to Wong Shun, at 22 North Main Street, and Joe Hong, at 184 Second Street. It was then noted that last year, about a month after the original decision, the police started visiting all four of the Chinese restaurants every day, hourly from 9pm till close. They especially wanted to keep track of the number of female patrons, as well as their ages, if possible. They continued this practice for almost a year. Talk about Big Brother watching!

In general, the lawyers representing the restaurants stated that the restaurants had been very good during the past year, though they did lose some business due to the heavy police presence. Noting the good behavior, the police board allowed the restaurants their permits for another year, though the inspections would continue. Why wouldn't they trust the restaurants? There didn't seem to be any evidence to support such continued police presence. And any trouble at these restaurants was most often committed by drunk white patrons.

The Fall River Globe, June 12, 1909, posted a brief notice that Lee S. Foy had bought the restaurant at 43 North Main Street, and that Charlie Jim would be their new cook and Lee Ark would be the new manager.

6 Chinese restaurants. The Fall River Globe, March 22, 1910, mentioned that there were now 6 Chinese restaurants in Fall River, with four located on the 2nd or 3rd floors, and two on the ground or street floors.

Again, there was more antagonism against Chinese restaurants, and it was obviously racially based. The Fall River Daily Evening News, August 4, 1910, published an editorial from a Fall River newspaper. Father Cassidy of Fall River “denounced the Chinese restaurants of Fall River and said they should not be tolerated.” The editorial then stated, “Casual observation leads us to agree with Father Cassidy. We are persuaded that most of the Chinese restaurants in this city are demoralizing resorts. They are located on upper floors, where they cannot be observed from the street, and they are resorted to largely by degraded men and women of the lowest type.” In addition, the article noted, “It is significant that the Chinese restaurants are always located in the upper stories of buildings whereas other restaurant keepers prefer the street floors. This is because the proprietors of the Chinese resorts desire to keep knowledge of conditions from a decent public.”

It is curious that so many Chinese restaurants during this time period chose to be located on the second floor. I haven't yet found anyone who could provide the reasoning behind this choice. I don't believe that it was intended to hide what was going on from people, especially as they wanted to attract people to their restaurants. Was it a cultural issue? I'm continuing to seek answers to this conundrum.

Another new restaurant. The Fall River Daily Evening News, November 5, 1910, noted that the police board granted a common victualler’s license to a Chinese restaurant on the second floor at 32 Second Street. No more details were given.

And the new restaurants kept coming. The Fall River Daily Evening News, November 7, 1910, published an ad for a new Chinese spot, the Kan Hong Low, located at 32 Second Street, which will serve only Chinese dishes.

The Fall River Daily Evening News, January 12, 1912, published an ad for the Royal Chinese Restaurant, located at 87 South Main Street, which will offer “All kinds of Chinese cooking.” The Fall River Daily Evening News, January 31, 1912, also noted the restaurant was located over the Savoy Theater.

The Fall River Daily Evening News, March 12, 1915, noted that Moy Toy had purchased Me Nam Low Co., which had been the first Chinese restaurant in Fall River, from Joe Hong. Then, the Fall River Daily Evening News, May 5, 1915, noted that Joe Sam had bought the Chinese restaurant of Joe Yuen, located at 87 South Main Street. As a follow-up, the Fall River Daily Evening News, June 16, 1915, stated that Joe Sam called his new restaurant, the Royal Café.

The restaurants kept getting larger and fancier. The Fall River Daily Evening News, April 18, 1916: published a large advertisement for another new American-Chinese restaurant, the Eagle Restaurant, located at 8 Bedford Street. It was said to be a high class restaurant, staffed by all Chinese waiters who would offer excellent service.

More details were provided in the Fall River Daily Evening News, April 20, 1916. A special opening banquet was held and it was stated that the food, service and decor were excellent. The man chef was Moy Jung, and the restaurant was able to handle 200 guests. The restaurant was also independent of any other Chinese spot.

And another! The Fall River Globe, January 24, 1920, reported that the Far East Chinese Restaurant Corp. had leased the second floor of the Cherry & Webb building on South Main Street. The corporation operates a chain of restaurants in New England, with places in New Bedford, Providence, and Boston. They wanted to open a restaurant in Fall River too. The Fall River Globe, May 15, 1920, provided more details through an advertisement, noting their restaurant would be known as The Far East, with plans to open on May 20. It would be a high class restaurant, and most beautifully decorated.

The Fall River Globe, August 17, 1920, stated that construction work had started at 1440 Pleasant Street, with plans to open a new Chinese restaurant. The Fall River Globe, September 23, 1920, stated the new restaurant had opened but no details were provided.

The Fall River Daily Evening News, December 8, 1920, presented a new ad (partially provided above) for The Far East, mentioning that they had opened an Oriental Dance Garden, a place for dancing with good music amid “harmonious surroundings.” The restaurant had hired new chefs, and the ad listed some of their American and Chinese dishes.

There was a brief note in the Fall River Daily Evening News, January 3, 1921, which mentioned that Mee King Low had purchased the Chinese restaurant at 1415 South Main Street, which was formerly owned by M.H. King.

The Fall River Globe, September 10, 1921, presented an ad for the Hong Kong, a new American-Chinese restaurant, located at 338 South Main Street. They offered a Special Chicken Dinner for 35 cents.

Another new spot. The Fall River Daily Evening News, September 26, 1921, stated that the Men Yin Company, an American and Chinese restaurant located at 391 South Main Street, was now open from 9am-12am. The Fall River Globe, October 1, 1921, though stated the restaurant's name was Men Yim Low.

The first Tong reference concerning Fall River. The Boston Globe, November 29, 1924, reported that Men Far Low, the owner of a restaurant at 1239 Pleasant Street, was a member of the On Leong Tong. He asked for police protection, claiming that the Hip Sing Tong wanted to murder him. Men claimed that he had received a phone call from Providence, telling him that two Chinese laundry workers were killed in Hartford and that an order for his death had been issued by the Hip Sing.

For the first time, it was learned that the On Leong had a headquarters in Fall River on Corneau Street, though the Hip Sing didn't have an organization there. The police were told that 6-7 members of the Hip Sing had been seen in the city during the past week. The police took the threat seriously and provided protection to Men. Nothing seems to have happened to Men, and the newspapers were curiously silent on any follow-up to this matter.

Chop Suey Price War! The Boston Globe, December 18, 1931, reported that almost all of the Chinese restaurant owners in Fall River had received anonymous, threatening letters to settle their differences with either the plaintiff or defendant in the Superior Court case of Chin Wing Tung against Mark Chung Ming. These two were alleged partners in a South Main Street restaurant, with Chin being an alleged silent partner. He wanted an accounting to get his share of the capital and profits of the restaurant.

Chin also alleged that over his protest, Mark had continued to engage in a chop suey price war with the other restaurant. Mark was selling his chop suey for 25 cents, which was 10 cents cheaper than the other Chinese restaurants. Mark claimed that he had never promised Chin an accounting. This was thought to be the first Chinese litigation in the area, as they usually handled such matters on their own, with their unofficial court system. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the resolution to this lawsuit.

To Be Continued...

1 comment:

Mae said...

I read somewhere that the reason that many Chinese restaurants were on 2nd floors was because the rent was cheaper. The 1st floor were usually reserved for shops.