Friday, March 27, 2020

The First Chinese Restaurants Outside Boston (Part 5--Lowell & Lynn)

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; Part 3 dealt with Springfield, Part 4 dealt with Fall River, and now Part 5 will deal with Lowell.

According to  Chinese Laundries: Tickets to Survival on Gold Mountain, by John Jung, "The total number of Chinese in Lowell never exceeded 100, so they were not an economic threat to whites, although in surrounding towns there were some additional Chinese." The book also stated, "The first Chinese restaurant in Lowell opened in 1907 serving Chinese primarily as whites resisted patronizing it. Chinese restaurants adapted their food and décor over the years to attract more non-Chinese customers." However, this book isn't fully accurate as the first Chinese restaurant in Lowell actually appeared in 1900, seven years earlier.

The Lowell Sun, June 29, 1900, published a wordy advertisement from a new Chinese restaurant, stating “Lowell has something new in the shape of a real Chinese restaurant at 196 Middlesex street.” It also stated, “The Chinese are among the best chefs in the world and ‘Chop Sooy’ etc., are much liked by Americans.” The restaurant was set to open on June 30, and would also sell Chinese bracelets and other related merchandise. The ad though didn't provide a name for the restaurant.

Little else was mentioned about this restaurant during the next two years. Then, the Lowell Sun, February 8, 1902, discussed the celebration of Chinese New Year in Lowell. All of the Chinese in the city were going to gather at the Chinese restaurant on Middlesex street and dine on chop suey, duck, raisin nuts, Chinese cakes, rice wine from China, and other delicacies.

A second Chinese restaurant opened. The Lowell Sun, February 13, 1902, provided a brief ad for a new Chinese restaurant, at 308 Middlesex Street, offering "Chop Sooey." Again, the restaurant wasn't provided a name.

Chop Suey serving Chop Suey? Interestingly, the Lowell Sun, February 26, 1902, reported that “In Middlesex street there is a Chinese restaurant whose proprietor’s name is ‘Chop Suey.” It seems highly unlikely that his actual name was "Chop Suey," and it is far more probable that he adopted it as a nickname. The article also provided a description of the dish, “..Chop Suey is a Chinese dish composed of pork, celery, onions, noodles and black beans and sometimes, when ordered, mushrooms. All these are chopped together; the gravy, blood juice, the Chinaman calls it, which goes with the chop suey, is made from the juice of the black beans.”

There was a police raid at one of the Chinese restaurants, owned by Yon Yen (aka John Yen), on Middlesex Street. The Lowell Sun, April 21, 1903, stated that on the prior Sunday morning, the police, after several weeks of surveillance, made a raid on the restaurant. Some policemen went to the second floor of an adjoining building and then went onto the fire escape which ran between the two buildings. On the restaurant building, they removed a window that led into the bathroom, and then they entered the restaurant. Other officers burst through the restaurant's doors.

The police arrested about 17 Chinese, charging most of them with being in the presence of gaming equipment, and each was fined $10. The owner, Yen, was charged with keeping a gaming house and fined $75. As he had recently come from New York, he had difficulty paying his fine and none of the other Chinese helped him pay the fine. The police also arrested a couple they found in one of the bedrooms. Blanche Bell, age 22, of Everett, and Wong Lee (or Wong Loy) were charged with fornication, and fined $20 each. According to the Lowell Sun, April 22, 1903, the raid also led to the revocation of the common victualers license of Yen Nom Lous & Co.

The Lowell Sun, November 14, 1903, noted that a Chinese restaurant planned for 29 Prescott Street was actually not going to open.

Another new restaurant. The Lowell Sun, March 7, 1906, published a brief ad for the Canton Chinese Restaurant, at 9 Hurd Street, which was set to open on March 10.

The Lowell Sun, March 17, 1906, provided a more detailed ad for the Canton Chinese Restaurant, at 9 and 11 Hurd Street. the ad stated the restaurant was for ladies and gentlemen, and offered a large portion of chop suey for 25 cents.

Another new spot. The Lowell Sun, May 6, 1908, posted an ad for a new Chinese restaurant, Chin Lee & Co., at 177 Merrimack Street, and they suggest you try their Chop Suey. It's clear that Chop Suey was one of the most compelling selling points for all of these restaurants.

The Lowell Sun, July 6, 1908, reported on a violent episode at an unnamed Chinese restaurant. One of the employees booted a patron out of the restaurant, but the patron later returned, threatening the employee. The Chinese employee grabbed an iron poker and strike the patron in the head. Apparently, no one was arrested and there wasn't any indication whether the patron was seriously injured or not.

A new restaurant is planned. The Lowell Sun, November 23, 1908, noted that Wong Quon, of John Street, was planning to open a new Chinese restaurant at a building at the corner of Middle and Central Streets. Then, the Lowell Sun, February 20, 1909, published an ad for this new restaurant, Wong & Co. The ad stated, “We make a specialty of French and American Cooking, as well as all the latest Chinese dishes.” This is the first historical ad for a Chinese restaurant that I've found that also offered French cooking. The ad mentions that their cook is Chinese Joe, formerly of New York and Chicago.

Less than two years later, this restaurant was sold. The Lowell Sun, April 26, 1910, mentioned that the Pekin Company had bought out Wong & Co. and would re-open under new management on May 17, serving Chinese and American style cuisine. After a slight delay, the Lowell Sun, June 2, 1910, noted that the new Pekin Company restaurant would open today. The owner, Chin Kee, had a christening party last evening serving lots of Chinese delicacies, including items like Bird’s Nest Soup, Steamed Pigeon with Chinese Condiments, Fresh Fish with Shark’s Fins, Fried Chicken Chinese Style, Crabs Chinese Style, and Lobster Salad.

The Chinese restaurants get larger. The Lowell Sun, August 25, 1913, reported that The Young China restaurant, located at 65 Merrimack Street, said to be the largest in New England, and a branch of a well established Boston firm, would open on August 27. Chin Kee, now said to be the manager of another Chinese restaurant, and not its own, had returned to Lowell and would manage this new restaurant. The building has been leased for 5 years, will have 22 employees and will hold 240 people. There would be a large dining room for men, and another for women, plus 32 private dining rooms.

The Lowell Sun, February 6, 1918, reported there was a hearing on a petition of Chin Lung and Chin Hong of Boston for a common victualler’s license for a restaurant at 121 Central Street. There was opposition to this license, demanding more information about the new owners and their prior businesses successes. The opposition also felt there wasn't a demand for another restaurant on Central Street, plus it was alleged most of the prior Chinese restaurants had been failures, including places on Prescott Street, 308 Middlesex Street, Hurd Street, and another on Middlesex. It was noted though that the Chinese restaurant on Merrimack, owned by Chin Lee, always had a waiting line. The matter was taken under advisement.

As a follow-up, the Lowell Sun, March 5, 1918, reported there had been special meeting of the license commission to discuss about Chinese restaurant license. The opposition's lawyer claimed that the law stated the commissioners couldn’t grant a license until the building was inspected and approved by the chief of police. The commissioners would likely seek a legal opinion, which they did. The Lowell Sun, March 12, 1918, noted that the City solicitor had informed the board that they could grant a license for 90 days and if another permit or extension was granted, they could continue the license.

The Lowell Sun, March 12, 1918, published an editorial, noting the “wholly unnecessary controversy over the proposition to grant a license for a Chinese restaurant.” The editorial claimed that the opposition was lodged in part by competitors and also because they opposed Chinese. The writer stated there were plenty of reasons, which were provided for why the license should be granted. Though I didn't find a subsequent article noting the commissioner's decision, the restaurant was built and opened.

The Lowell Sun, September 25, 1918, mentioned that contractors were working on renovations to the building on Central Street for the upcoming Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was noted as being open in the Lowell Sun, April 17, 1920, though it's likely it was open earlier than that. And according to the Lowell Sun, June 23, 1926, the restaurant, owned by Wong You, was still open.

Information on the first restaurants in Lynn was more difficult to locate in online newspaper archives as many of their local newspapers have not yet been digitized. However, there is some information which can be readily found giving us a glimpse into their early Chinese restaurant history.

The first Chinese restaurant in Lynn appeared to have been established around 1905 and was located on Union Street. Both the Boston Herald, March 6, 1905, and the Boston Daily Globe, April 13, 1905, briefly mentioned this restaurant, though neither provided any details on it, including failing to note its name. The restaurant would again be briefly mention in Boston Globe, February 28, 1906, as the site where a special officer was assaulted.

Louis Brown and James Shattuck, shoemakers, were causing a disturbance at the restaurant and special officer Robert Brennan, in his civilian clothes, tried to eject them. They fought with Brennan, and he sustained some bad bruises on his face. Brown and Shattuck were subsequent arrested.

The Boston Globe, September 22, 1906, reported that Yee Yun Toy, who was born in San Francisco, was now the first Chinese registered to vote in Lynn. Yee owned a laundry at 14 Market Square. In the future, he would become a restaurant owner.

Problems at a Chinese restaurant. The Boston Globe, November 10, 1906, stated that the police were called to Munroe Street, to a Chinese restaurant, because of a report of five shots fired. Several men had been making a “rough house” in the restaurant, including breaking glass. One of the Chinese employees chased them men out of the restaurant, and fire five shots as the men fled. The police discovered two of the alleged perpetrators, Joseph Daley and Frank Mackey, hiding in a nearby alley and arrested them. However, as there was no proof that these men actually broke the glass, they were released.

Liquor violation. The Boston Herald, May 27, 1909, briefly mentioned that Ling Hee was fined $110 for liquor keeping at a Chinese restaurant. The name of the restaurant wasn't identified.

A wedding first! The Boston Globe, September 7, 1913, reported the first marriage in New England of American-born Chinese would soon occur in Lynn. The groom would be Edwin Goonyep, age 26, who was born in San Francisc and worked in management for the Chinese restaurant at 422 Washington Street. He has lived in Lynn for 8 years and also handles the financial business for a number of Chinese concerns. The bride would be Alice Moy Yuen, age 16, and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Moy Yuen of New Bedford, where Moy is a merchant. Alice was born in New Bedford. The two shall be married by Rev. O.J. White, the pastor of the Washington Street Baptist Church.

The Boston Globe, December 25, 1913, described a significant fire in Lynn, which started in the boiler room, gutting the Spinney Block, a 4 story brick building at 10 & 12 Mulberry Street, and the Blake Block, a building at 305 and 311 Union Street. The Chin Lee Co., a Chinese restaurant, occupied the second floor of the Blake Block, and they also occupied the three upper floors of the Spinney Block, as a kitchen and the sleeping quarters for their employees, which numbered at least 17. In the photo above, from the Boston Globe, December 26, 1913, you can see the large Chop Suey signs advertising the restaurant.

Yee Yun Toy, the first Chinese registered to vote in Lynn, wanted to operate a Chinese restaurant, though he encountered some obstacles. The Boston Globe, June 3, 1915, stated that after spending about $12,000 to remodel a building in Central Square for his Chinese restaurant, the License Commissioners refused to issue a common victualer’s license to Yee Yun Toy. The reason was that they did not believe there should be any more Chinese restaurants in Lynn, and that those restaurants shouldn’t be allowed to compete with those of Americans as the Chinese have no interests in the city. Other restaurant owners protested against issuance of the license. This was the first time such a license was denied for a Chinese restaurant.

As a follow-up, the Boston Globe, June 16, 1915, noted that at a hearing of the License Commissioners, they were presented with a petition of 2000 signatures asking them to grant Yee Yun Toy a victualer's license. Yee’s lawyer claimed that some of the members were in the pockets of the other restaurant owners. Curiously, it appears that Yee might have gone forward and opened on Sundays, despite not having a license. The Boston Globe, July 27, 1915, stated the Chief of Police was going to prosecute Yee for opening on Sundays. This was spurred on by complaints from his competitors. I couldn't find a resolution to these matters.

To Be Continued...

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