Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The First Restaurants In Boston's Chinatown: The Tale of Ruby Foo (Part 4--Expanded/Revised)

Around 1929, an enterprising and pioneering Chinese woman, Ruby Foo (pictured above), seized an opportunity, thwarted norms, and opened a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Eventually, she created a small empire of Chinese restaurants that even extended outside the U.S. Her fascinating story is worthy of its own article, though unfortunately her life was far too short. Despite dying too early, Ruby made a significant impact, and her legacy is and should still be cherished.

Let me begin with some caveats. The sources concerning the life of Ruby Foo sometimes contain contradictory information, especially concerning a number of event dates. Thus, some of the following information is speculation at best. It's possible, and even likely concerning certain aspects, that Ruby, or others, embellished some of the facts of her life to present a certain image. In addition, some information seems to be lacking from the newspaper archives. Through additional research, I've located more information, which thus led to this expansion and revision of my original article, though additional research is certainly still warranted.

Multiple sources indicate that Ruby Foo was born in San Francisco in 1904, but upon her death in 1950, it was also claimed by numerous sources that she was 43 years old, or even 42. With a birth year of 1904, she should have been 46 years old at the time of her death. That means either her date of birth is incorrect, and should actually be 1907 or 1908, or people lied about her age when she died, making her seem younger. 

She wouldn't be the first person to lie about her age. In a newspaper interview in 1938, Ruby wasn't helpful as she simply stated she was born “many, many years ago.” Due to some additional research, it appears most likely that she was born in 1904, and the sources at her death got her true age wrong. 

Her birth name appears to have been Dea Yoke, and at some unknown point in time she decided she wanted to be known as Ruby, and this was called Ruby Dare. Little seems to be known about her parents. What is claimed is that her father was allegedly a chef at an American hospital and once owned a restaurant in Washington, D.C. Her Chinese mother, who was a homemaker, allegedly didn't speak English.

When did Ruby come to Boston? Most sources seem to indicate that she arrived in 1923, which would mean that with a birth year of 1904 she would have been 19 years old. However, other sources indicate that when she was 15 years old, in 1919, she married to Joey Guoy Shong, aka J.G. Shong, who was said to be 45 years old at the time. That was likely an arranged marriage although we don't know how Ruby's parents knew Shong. 

My latest research has uncovered that Ruby married Joey Shong in May 1921, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. This was Shong's second marriage, having been divorced for several years. Ruby traveled across the country to New Hampshire, arriving a couple days before her wedding. On route, she met up with her father in Chicago, and he accompanied her for the rest of the journey, where he gave away Ruby at the wedding. Ruby was said to be 17 years old, which would coincide with a birth year of 1904. After the wedding, the newlyweds moved to Boston, so the sources claiming Ruby first came to Boston in 1923 were incorrect.  

Interestingly, the article in the Boston Globe, May 28, 1921, concerning the wedding, stated that Ruby was a "white girl" but the Boston Herald article correctly noted that she was Chinese. 

In July 1921, there was a report of a masked burglar robbing the house, located at 87 Dartmouth Street, of Joey Guoy Shong, also known as Quoy Shong. At about 10 p.m. on a Sunday night, when Joey, the "doctor," had retired for the night with his wife, the robber entered their premises. 

In this burglary incident, the burglar was armed with a gun and forced the doctor to open his safe, stealing about $500. It was indicated that the doctor and his wife slept on the second floor of the house, while the doctor’s American secretary, Miss Matherson, lived on the third floor. The doctor also had a Chinese assistant, though it was unknown where in the house he resided. It was interesting to note that their back yard was surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire.

A review of the various Boston Ward List of Residents 20 Years of Age and Over, and specifically the April 1, 1924 edition indicated Ruby Shong was a resident of 87 Dartmouth Street, at least as early as April 1, 1923 with her husband Joey Guoy Shong. Her age is listed as 20, which would make sense if her date of birth was 1904. Joey's age is listed as 50, and his occupation is salesman, and not doctor. 

Let's take a little look at Shong. In 1918, we know he was living at 83 Dartmouth Street, the former home of the famed Pang Suey, a Chinese herbal doctor. Shong was either a relative or close friend of Suey and worked with him in his herbalism business. When Suey died in 1917, Shong took over the herbal medicine business. Shong was also the administrator of Suey's estate, which was worth about $200,000, and probate dragged out for years.

In December 1918, Shong was charged with practicing medicine without being registered, a charge which had haunted Suey as well when he was alive. Shong was found guilty and fined $100 but he filed an appeal.

In May 1920, Shong bought a “three-story and basement swell-front brick house” at 87 Dartmouth Street, a property that was taxed for $10,000. Curiously, in March 1921, Shong sold the property to Soo H. Shing but then bought it back in January 1922. Not quite sure the reason for these real estate maneuvers. In 1925 and 1926, in the Assessed Values of Real Estate in Boston, only Ruby Shong is mentioned at 87 Dartmouth Street, which had an assessed value of $11,000. Why was Joey no longer listed?

In September 1923, Shong was once again charged with practicing medicine without being registered. The government claimed that he had prescribed medicinal herbs to a man with cancer but Shong countered that he wasn't a herb doctor, claiming only to be an herb merchant. He was found guilty by a jury. The major newspapers contradict each other on the amount of the fine, one stating it was $100 and another stating is was $200.

Seven years after Suey's death, in June 1924, probate was still ongoing. Mrs. Chew Shee, the widow of Suey, was suing the estate, seeking a part of Shong's income from his herbalist business, alleging that he had taken all of Suey's prior customers. The estate had already shown a cash inventory of about $200,000, and much of the money had been paid to the window. Shong claimed that he was an "herbal doctor" and he only dealt with a few of Suey's prior customers.

Back to Ruby! Once in Boston, Ruby attended and graduated from Wellesley College. It was also claimed that Shong had "taught her the voice control, charm and poise that made her famous.” Around 1926, Ruby gave birth to a son, Earl (or Earle) Shong, and the next year to a daughter, Doris Shong. Earle's date of birth would come into question later.

Soon after the birth of their children, it appears the Shongs were having financial difficulties. In February 1928, Ruby ended up as a defendant in "the poor debtor session of the Municpal Court.” The plaintiff, Harry Yee Tang, had a judgment against her of $203.70. It is unsure how that debt was incurred, and what it entailed. Ruby claimed that she couldn't pay the debt, as she only possessed about $2 or $3, didn't own any jewelry and didn't have a bank account. The car she drove belonged to someone else, as did the piano in her house. 

The judge ruled in her favor and dismissed the case by the creditor. It was claimed that this was the first time that a Chinese woman had been summoned in poor debtor court. It would also seem to indicate that she hadn't started a restaurant yet as that would have clearly been considered an asset by the court. And if Ruby was this destitute, how could she afford starting her own restaurant any time soon?

Obviously, she somehow found a way to enter the restaurant business, and we are unsure about the exact date when she started this endeavor. Although 1929 is often cited as the start of her restaurant, it isn't clear whether that refers to her initial foray or the establishment of her first "Den." A 1969 obituary of Ruby's brother, George Richard Dare, indicated that he started the restaurant with his sister. 

Initially, “Her first restaurant was a small one-room affair in Boston’s Chinatown.” This was said to be located at 4 Hudson Street. Was this called "The Den" or would that name come later? It was said that the "establishment originally served ‘quick lunches’ to Chinese workers in the area at small cost.” This restaurant wasn't an immediate success. “It was bad-going at first for the ambitious young woman, but gradually her carefully prepared food began to attract a growing clientele.” It was also said that, “But the business was soon ‘discovered’ by Caucasian Americans as a place serving ‘authentic’ Chinese food, and the restaurant was forced to enlarge again and again.

With her eventual success, she was able to expand. “Soon the one-room gave way to two, and in later years, the ‘Den’ had become many times larger than the first small room.” There are some sources that seem to indicate Ruby might have started her namesake restaurant after 1929, possibly as later as 1932. In a 1938 newspaper interview, when asked why she started a restaurant, Ruby said, “One gets rather bored at home so I thought I’d show that a woman can do well in business. I also wanted a little pin money.” 

The financial aspect might have been more important than just "pin money," concerning her recent issue at the poor debtor court. That also raises again the issue of how did Ruby raise the money to start the restaurant in the first place? Did her brother, George, help finance the endeavor?

Another possible solution is that she received a loan from a Tong. In early 1930, the Hip Sing Tong Association, filed an attachment against the property of J.G. Shong and Ruby Shong. The newspaper article filed to mention the amount of the debt or for what it entailed. It is possible Ruby obtained a loan from this Association to start her restaurant and the Association simply wanted to protect their investment, especially if the restaurant wasn't doing so well initially.

The Shong's attorney tried to negotiate a settlement of the matter, though for some reason only for J.G. and not Ruby. However, though a deal was apparently made, for $230, the Shong's attorney never made the payment and he became subject to malpractice suit and a motion to disbar him as an attorney (which was eventually granted). The discharge of the attachment had already been given, after the agreement was made, but before they were actually paid.

Ruby was very likely the first woman in Chinatown to start a restaurant. We have to remember that at this point of time, there were very few Chinese women in Chinatown. In the Greater Boston area, there were approximately 3,000 Chinese men but only about 150 Chinese women. What a huge disparity! It was a bold decision for her to start her new endeavor, and she faced a number of significant obstacles, yet she succeeded to a great degree. Her intelligence, business acumen, passion, and drive, all contributed to her success. It's an inspiring story for many reasons.

Her restaurant was initially located at either 4 or 6 Hudson Street, and occupied a single room at that location. In February 1930, Lee Hen Art, a resident of 6 Hudson Street, was arrested for possessing 10 grams of opium. It seems that address was multi-use, and in addition to the restaurant there were some apartments as well. Over time, the restaurant would grow, and the entire building would likely become the restaurant.

Unfortunately, darkening her initial success, Ruby's husband, J.G. Shong, likely died in 1930. Ruby is last mentioned at being at 87 Dartmouth Street in the Boston Ward List of Residents 20 Years of Age and Over, April 1, 1929 edition. In an April 1, 1932 edition of the Ward Lists, we learn that Ruby was now married to Thomas J. Foo, an importer, who was 37 years old. Ruby was listed as a housewife, 26 years old, and they both lived at 112 Jersey Street. However, there was also a notation that as of April 1, 1931, they were both living at 133 Peterborough Street, so they probably got married either in later 1930 or early 1931. It was also interesting that Ruby hadn't listed herself as a restaurant owner at that time.

Ruby and Thomas were listed in the April 1, 1933 edition of the Ward Lists at 112 Jersey Street, but they were no longer there in 1934, and I'm unsure to where they moved. I found very little information about Thomas in the newspaper archives.

The first advertisement I found for Ruby Foo's restaurant was in the Boston Globe, July 2, 1935. The restaurant, known as Ruby Foo at The Den, was located on Hudson Street (6 Hudson) and offered "delicious Chinese Foods." And it was open till 4am! Note that the ad doesn't mention they serve American cuisine, just Chinese, which is different from many other Chinatown restaurants at this time. It was said that Ruby Foo originally presented Cantonese food for the Chinese community, but eventually, the quality of her food enticed non-Chinese to dine there.

At some point, the menu at Ruby Foo’s contained a quote from Yuan Mei, a famous Chinese poet and gastronome. “There is a difference between dining and eating. Dining is an art. When you eat to get most out of your meal, to please the palate, just as well as to satiate the appetite, that, my friend, is dining.

Ruby's restaurant was so successful during the 1930s that she was approached to open a second location in New York City. Joe Pike and his wife Florence (who was from Boston) used to travel frequently and dined at numerous Chinese restaurants. They were impressed with what Ruby Foo had created, and proposed a partnership to her to open a similar restaurant in New York City, using the same Cantonese recipes. This second location opened at 240 West 52nd Street, just off Broadway, in October 1936. This was probably the first Chinatown restaurant to open a second location outside of Massachusetts, and this occurred within only about seven years of the start of Ruby's business. What an achievement for Ruby!

The iconic photo above, known as "Bloody Saturday," depicted a lone baby in a bombed Shanghai railroad station. It was published in September and October 1937 and had quite an impact, representative of Japanese atrocities against China. The identity of the child was thought to be a mystery, and most sources claimed that no one knew the ultimate fate of this child. However, in the first incarnation of my article on Ruby Foo, I put forward the claim that Ruby Foo actually adopted this child.

It was claimed that this photograph touched the heart and soul Ruby Foo who then allegedly "sent $5000 to China for relief of war-stricken refugees." In return, according to The Boston Globe, October 24, 1938, she was able to adopt this baby, who arrived in Boston in October 1938. This information was repeated in at least two other newspapers around the country, including the Tampa Bay Times, October 25, 1938, and the Indianapolis Star, October 25, 1938. 

It was alleged that the child, Chin Yook Ho, was born in Canton on March 5, 1937, and his parents were Chin Gawk Yun, of Boston, and his wife, Yee Shee, also known as May Yee. The child was born in China when his parents were in China last year. When filing for adoption, Tam and Ruby claimed that Yee was too sickly to properly care for the child. The adoption went through and the child was renamed Ronald Foo.

Previously, I didn't locate any sources which directly contradicted Ruby Foo's claims. There were certainly plenty of sources which alleged the fate of the child was unknown, but none of them directly addressed the details of Foo issue. However, after additional research, I found a new source which directly dealt with this situation, and would seem to provide a definitive answer.

There was a letter published in The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 28, 1938 (which would be reprinted in various other newspapers across the country), from Booney Powell, a Fox movietone cameraman, who was with "News Reel Wong" in Shanghai when he took the iconic Bloody Saturday photograph. Booney noted some information in his letter which wasn't generally known by the public, information which directly affected the veracity of Ruby Foo's claims.

The child in the photo sustained several serious wounds, including a crushed right shoulder and his left arm was blown off just below the elbow. After the photo, the child's alleged father took him away, vanishing into a sea of refugees. As we know that the child Ruby adopted wasn't missing a left arm, Booney disputes Ruby Foo's claims that she adopted the child in the photo. That would seem to be definitive, based on the words of an eyewitness to the child at the time of the iconic photograph.

So, why was the story concocted that Ronald Foo was the child in the photograph? We don't have any answers to that question and are left to speculate. First, maybe Ruby Foo was initially deceived by other parties, and Ruby believed she was adopting the child in the photograph. When Booney Powell's refutation arose, maybe Ruby was too embarrassed to admit she had been fooled. It also doesn't seem that Ruby continued to push this story in the 1940s.

Second, maybe Ruby Foo knew about the deception from the start, and might have had a hand in creating it. She might have done so to help promote the cause of China, which was being subjected to terrible atrocities by the Japanese. And once Booney Powell's refutation arose, Ruby stopped promoting her story. We may never know the truth.

Back to Ruby Food's Den! In July 1939, it was noted that Ruby now offered a Chinese food delivery service, within a reasonable radius, though the brief article didn't specify whether that applied to both the Boston and New York locations. This also seems like one of the first mentions of a Chinese restaurant in the Boston area offering delivery service. This might have been an innovation she brought to Boston's Chinatown. Unfortunately, this brief article didn't mention anything about the nature of the food containers used for delivery. Was it the ubiquitous Chinese food containers that we now all know and love, those white paper containers with wire handles?

Good news! First, in April 1940, Earl, Ruby's son, married Helene Irene Goon, a native of Canton, China, who had been in the U.S. as a student for two years. In December 1940, Ruby Foo became a grandmother as her son, Earl, who was allegedly 18 years old, became the father of a boy, Richard. This raises more issues concerning an accurate timeline of Ruby Foo.

The article stated that Ruby was 35 years old, meaning she would have been born in 1904 or 1905, which isn't an issue. However, as Earl was said to be 18 years old, that meant he'd been born around 1922, before many sources claimed Ruby even came to Boston. I mentioned previous information that indicated Earl was born more around 1926, and if that were the case, then he would have been only about 14 or 15 years old when his son was born.

If he had been only 14 or 15 years old, it would be possible that his family embellished his age to make him seem older so he didn't run into any legal problems with his new marriage and child. However, it might be more likely that as mentioned previously, Ruby Foo came to Boston in 1919, marrying Joey Shong, and actually gave birth to Earl around 1922. Later newspaper articles about Earl seem to indicate as well that he was most likely born around 1922.

Ruby's fame was mentioned in a brief article in August 1940, noting, “The only international chain of American-Chinese restaurants in the world is operated by Mrs. Ruby Foo, a diminutive Chinese from San Francisco. She has restaurants in New York, Boston, London, and, of course, at the New York World’s Fair." The article also mentioned one of Ruby's hobbies, "During her off hours Mrs, Foo goes in for solo flying.”  So, not only did she run a restaurant empire, and raise three children, but she had learned how to fly a plane. She would also allow her name to be used for other Ruby Foo restaurants in places including Miami, Washington, Providence, and even Montreal.

Armed robbery at The Den! In September 1940, three masked gunman tried to rob The Den, and they shot Henderson Chin, a bookkeeper at the restaurant. He was shot in the right leg and sustained a compound fracture. At the time of the robbery, Henderson was counting the day's recipes, about $1000. Later, four men were arrested for the attempted robbery, charged with assault & battery with intent to rob, assault & battery with intent to murder, and conspiracy to rob. Malcolm Davis, the shooter, eventually received a sentence of 9-11 years in state prison. Jere Woo, a former night watchman at the restaurant, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for conspiracy to robbery. Willie Soo Hoo had previously pled guilty and received a 7-10 year sentence.

Unfortunately, not all the news in December 1940 was good, as a couple weeks after the birth of her first grandson, Ruby's husband, Thomas, who was also known as Tam, died. Tam was the President of the Chinese Merchants Association. Not long after Tam's passing, Ruby Foo married once again, to William Wong.

The Boston Herald, April 10, 1941, published a cute photo of Ruby's son, Ronald, riding his tricycle.

As an aside, in March 1942, Florence Pike, who took the lead in operating the Ruby Foo's restaurant in New York City, was claimed to be the only white woman who had been granted membership in a Chinese Tong, the On Leongs. Why would they allow a white woman to join? Was this an indication the Tong was trying to turn a new leaf, to move away from past violence and crime? Or was this merely fake news?

In April 1944, there was a fire at 10 Hudson Street, the building which was owned by the Wam Sun Association and occupied by Ruby Foo's Den. The fire was to the rear of the building and caused about $5,000 in damage. The restaurant had to close for a time as the City Building Commissioner had the building condemned as unsafe.

In January 1945, Ruby Foo's Den started advertising regularly in the Boston Globe, under a column titled "Boston's Delightful Dining And Dancing Spots." Only about a dozen spots were under this column, and there was only one other Chinese restaurant listed there. The ad is rather minimal, but notes the restaurant was open till 3am.

A war-time curfew! In February 26, 1945, there was an order from the War Mobilization Director that there would be a nationwide curfew at midnight for all clubs and restaurants selling liquor. The Boston Licensing Board also made it official though there was little opposition in the city, as "Boston has always been a 1 o'clock town." Restaurants could stop selling liquor and midnight and stay open, providing food. Other places that didn't sell liquor could also stay open. For example, Ruby Foo's Den, which never sold liquor, can still remain open till 4am. It's fascinating to learn that Ruby Foo's  never had a liquor licenses, yet still achieved great success.

However, an article in September 1945, titled "Queen of the Dawn," mentioned that Ruby Foo's Den was only open until 3am. The article also stated that after the nightclubs closed at 1am, theatrical workers and entertainers would go to Ruby Foo's. She was well beloved in the entertainment industry, all across the country. They were the ones who helped to spread the popularity of her restaurant. Ruby was described as "jolly, good-natured, with laughing almond eyes and lips that smile easily." It was also noted that the manager at her Boston restaurant was Jack Chan.

Tragedy struck in 1947, a drama splattered all over the newspapers. In July, Earle M. Shong, her 24-year old son was arrested and charged with assault to murder his stepfather, Willian Wong. Earle didn't have a criminal record and fortunately, William wasn't seriously injured. Wong was shot in the neck at his home at 242 Jamaicaway, while he was allegedly having an argument with Ruby in their bedroom. Earle, who lives at the same address, shot twice, only hitting William once, and he admitted to the police his role.

His defense was that he thought William was going to strike his mother with a hammer. Earle had been downstairs, playing cards with two other men when he heard William and Ruby arguing. At the trial, William claimed that an argument whether men should open car doors for women led to his loud dispute with his wife. Ruby had allegedly been drinking and when they argued, she hit him in the head with a planer. She then grabbed a tack hammer, which he was able to wrestle away from her. Ruby then called for her son, who came up stairs, and she told him, "Get him and get the hammer." He then shot William.

There was a notation in one newspaper that Ruby developed heart disease after this incident, and the trial was even delayed a week because of her condition. When Ruby eventually testified, she stated her son was trying to defend her from William, who had attacked her with a board and hammer. Her son told William to drop the hammer, which he didn't, so Earle shot him. She also testified that William had struck and threatened her previous times, and they often argued over money. William wasn't a partner in her restaurant business, though he had worked briefly there as a manager, and made no financial contributions to the household. She stated that his occupation was "husband," and that she gave him money to support his hobbies.

In September 1947, the jury acquitted Earle of all charges. And later, in April 1948, William and Ruby divorced. William's legal name was Wong Ying Wai and Ruby's legal name was Wong Dea Yoke. Strangely enough, William filed for divorce on the grounds of "cruel and abusive treatment," alleging he was the victim of at least three prior assaults by his wife, some which required medical attention. For example, Wong alleged that Ruby once tore the lapel off his coat and at a 1947 New Year’s Eve party, she hurled a water pitcher at him. Plus, she once hit him with a carpenter’s plane and he needed hospital treatment. Most of these incidents seem to have occurred when Ruby was intoxicated. Ruby didn't contest the divorce and it was granted. It could have been a very messy divorce.

The Boston Globe, August 17, 1948, made a strange claim, “Knishes are a distinctive and delicious Jewish delicacy, but I’m told that about the only places where you can buy them in Boston are at the Chinese restaurants of Ruby Food and China House…” It was difficult to determine whether this was a joke or not.

It appears that sometime in the first half of 1948, Florence Pike opened the first Chinese canning factory in the U.S. The canning factory was intended to produce canned Ruby Food Oriental food products. Though Ruby Foo likely gave permission for the creation of this line, the exact business arrangement with Mrs. Pike concerning these products is unknown. The canning facility was at 180 Empire Boulevard, and chefs from Ruby Foo's tested and experimented on creating excellent Chinese foods that could be canned. Great care was taken in the preparation of all of these foods, including using quality ingredients. The cans were noted as being available in Brooklyn grocery stores.

The first advertisement in Massachusetts I located for those canned was in the Springfield Union, November 23, 1948. The ad for Forbes & Wallace stated the following items were available: Chicken Chow Mein (59 cents, 1 pound 2 ounces, 3 for $1.75), Sub Gum Chow Mein (59 cents, 1 pound 2 ounces, 3 for $1.75), Soy Sauce (3 oz, 12 cents, 3 for 35 cents), Mushroom Egg Drop Soup (25 cents for 140oz, 4 for 95 cents), Boiled Long Grain Rice (32 cents for 14 1/2 oz, 3 for 89 cents), and Chow Mein Noodles (25 cents for 4 oz, 4 for 95 cents).

In February 1949, Florence Pike ran an advertisement in the Boston Globe seeking people to demonstrate the Ruby Foo canned foods. In May 1949, the Stop & Shop in Cambridge would advertise that they carried these canned Ruby Foo foods. And in February 1950, the Jordan Marsh Company advertised the sale of the canned Ruby Food foods, including Chicken Chow Mein (55 cents, 16 oz tin, 3 for $1.60), Vegetable Chow Mein (49 cents, 20 oz tin, 3 for $1.45), Soy Sauce (3 oz, 12 cents, 3 for 35 cents), Mushroom Egg Drop Soup (19 cents for 14 oz, 6 for $1.10), Boiled Long Grain Rice (25 cents for 16 oz, 4 for 95 cents),  and Noodles (19 cents for 4 oz, 6 for $1.10).

More bad news. Earl Shong's legal problems weren't over. In late September 1948, Earle was at a nightclub on Bolyston Street, allegedly brandishing a gun. The police also stated they received information that Earle was threatening a young woman with the gun. On a crowded dance floor, where Earle was dancing with the woman, Marjorie Yee (age 21), the police, with their guns out, tried to arrest him for violation of the firearms law. Foo tried to hide the gun, by dropping it and kicking it under a table, but it was recovered, an unloaded .38 revolver. Later, the judge gave him a two month suspended sentence and placed him on probation.

The Boston Traveler, February 27, 1950, had an article with recipes from Ruby Foo's Den, including Egg Foo Young and Chinese Pork Roast. The article stated, “They are easy and inexpensive to make, and very tasty indeed.”

Though the Ruby Foo food empire was going very well, it would suffer a terrible tragedy. Very sadly, Ruby Foo passed away suddenly, at her Jamaicaway home, on March 16, 1950 from a heart attack. A life cut far too short, as she was only 43-46 years old. Ruby had been having heart troubles for at least six months, though she previously mentioned heart issues as far back as 1947. She had recently spent five months in a hospital for treatment of her heart condition. Her alleged last words to her nurse were, “Call me a 1:30 (am). I want to call the restaurant.” That is certainly dedication to her passion.

Despite Ruby's passing, her restaurant continued to operate under the management of two of her children, Doris Shong (pictured above) and Earl Shong. During the 1950s, Ruby Foo's Den remained immensely popular, especially with celebrities, from comedians to sports figures. And the newspapers were very complimentary to how Doris and Earl were handling the restaurant. Reporters felt that Ruby Foo would have been very proud of her children. For a New Year's Eve special in January 1952, Ruby Foo’s Den surprised guests by serving abalone, a “soft, fleshy and expensive shellfish caught only in the warmest seas.”

The Boston American, June 15, 1953, featured an advertisement for Ruby Foo's Den, that stated it was “Known from coast to coast” and had “special containers for food orders to take home.” These were likely the Chinese food containers that we now all know, the white paper containers with wire handles. It was during the 1950s that these containers started to become popular around the country and maybe Ruby Foo's was one of the pioneers of its use. The ad also mentioned that the restaurant was air-conditioned.

Other members of Ruby Foo's family, besides Doris and Earl, worked at the Den as well. Ruby had a sister, Rose Dare, though I was unable to find much about her though I know she died before 1969. It doesn't appear that she ever worked at the restaurant. However, Ruby had two brothers as well, George and James Dare. George, and his wife Virginia, worked at the Den as greeters, while James, also known as Jimmy, sometimes worked as a waiter.

In September 1956, Ruby Foo's Den closed for a short time for renovations, to make the restaurant look more appealing.

The Boston Globe, December 28, 1956, had an ad for Ruby Foo's, located at 8 Hudson Street, and noted it had a facelift recently and that its favorite chef, Jerry Woo, had returned from China. There was a pre-dawn fire, caused by a short circuit in a ventilator fan, in July 1957, which caused about $4,000 in damage. The damage wouldn't be repaired though as the restaurant had to shut down.

The lights went out in Ruby Foo's Den later in July 1957 when the IRS seized the property for “non-payment of delinquent internal revenue taxes.” I'm unsure how much money they owed and why they were unable to pay the IRS. The restaurant seemed successful during the 1950s, but who knows what was going on behind the scenes. Seven years after the death of its founder, Ruby Foo's Den, in Boston's Chinatown, was no more. Although this iconic restaurant had to close its doors, its legacy would remain.

As a bit of a coda, I'm going to follow up on some of Ruby's family, and what occurred to them in the subsequent years.

In May 1957, it was mentioned that James Dare, referred to as Jimmy Foo, was probably the only Chinese-American taxi driver in Boston, worked for the McCann company, and his stand was Chinatown. Five months later, in October, James was robbed, losing $11 and his watch, and barely escaped death as the robber fired two shots at him. At this time, James lived at 92 West Cedar Street and was 43 years old. The robber was Michael McJunes, and the photo above shows James pointing out the gunman.

In July 1958, Earl, Ruby's son, had another run-in with the law. Noted as being 37 years old and living on Queensbury Street in the Back Bay, Earl was arrested with Philip Rugnetta, aged 24, for breaking and entering at night. The break-in had been at Trans-Disc Inc., in the South End, where the police found about $1250 of records, calculating and adding machines outside the building. The two defendants both testified that a third man, "Bill," was the real burglar. The judge decided to reduce their charge to larceny in a building and gave them suspended sentences and probation.

And soon after, there were more legal problems for Earl, which were more serious. In October 1958, Earl owned a building on Jersey Street in the Back Bay and it was raided by the vice squad. Two women were arrested, Nancy Mallard, age 19 of Roxbury, and Freida Pitsios, age 27 of Lowell, and they pled guilty to “an idle and disorderly charge,” essentially being prostitutes. Both received probation for a year. It was alleged that guests paid $10-$100 for "entertainment" and that Shong received $3 from each girl after her appointment. Neighbors had complained to the police about all of the traffic to the third floor apartment.

Earl was charged with allowing his premises to be used for immoral purposes. In addition, another man was arrested, Charles Robinson, age 28, of Roxbury, who was charged with procuring, enticing and sending women to practice prostitution. The trial was originally scheduled for January 12, 1959,  but that date was continued. In March 1959, it was noted that Frieda Petsios, a witness for the prosecution, wasn't being cooperative. She currently lived in New Jersey, and claimed that her life had been threatened if she dared testify. The police retrieved her from New Jersey, offering them their protection.

The trial began in early April and both women testified. Frieda, a brunette college graduate, claimed that the undercover police officer was her first and only customer. She cried so much during her testimony that she had to be taken out of the court. Nancy also testified, mentioning that she became useless to the defendants when her pregnancy started to show. She also stated that her top fee was $100 but commonly had to work for much less.

Earl was found guilty and sentenced to 2 years in the House of Corrections, though he petitioned the court for a longer sentence. Earl asked for 2 ½-3 years in State Prison, as that would actually allow him to serve less time. How did that work? Well, Earl had already spent 119 days in the Charles Street jail, from his arrest through the trial, and a sentence in the House of Corrections wouldn't give him any credit for that time. A State Prison sentence though would provide him that time credit. The Judge granted his request, though Earl would also be on probation for four years. His codefendant received a similar sentence.

Earle would later die suddenly on October 12, 1967, leaving behind his wife, Helen, and his son, Richard. His sister, Doris Waters of Brookline, and brother, Ronald Foo of New York, were still alive at this time. George Dare, Ruby's brother would die in February 1969, and in March 1976, Earle's wife, Helen, would pass away. Doris Foo would pass away on May 18, 2003, leaving behind three sons, Samuel, Matthew and Kurt. Her brother, Ronald, was noted as still being alive and it appears he is still living as of today.

Ruby Foo is commemorated in Boston as part of The Boston Women's Heritage Trail. As part of their Chinatown/South Cove Walk, they stop at the former location of Ruby Foo's Den and provide some history of this fascinating and successful business woman.

In addition, back in the summer of 2019, the Chinese Historical Society of New England worked with the Boston City Archaeology Program on the first archaeological dig in Chinatown. They spent about three weeks, digging in a vacant lot which once had been the home to Ruby Foo's Den. The Hudson Street building was torn down in 1989. Unfortunately, once they had dug down about six-and-a-half feet, they hit the water table and had to cease their activities for safety reasons.

The story of Ruby Foo is a powerful tale of an intelligent and savvy business woman who became a success in the restaurant industry, and introduced many people to the wonders of Chinese cuisine. Plus, she succeeded during difficult times, from the Great Depression to World War II. Who knows what she might have accomplished if she had only lived longer. Many kudos to the memory of Ruby Foo!

Check out Part 1, covering the 19th century.
Check out Part 2, covering 1901-1920.
Check out Part 3, covering the 1920s.
Check out Part 5, covering 1930-1954
Check out Part 6, the tale of Anita Chue
Check out Part 7, the tale of Mary Yick
Check out Part 8, a Deeper Look into Two Restaurants
Check out Part 9, covering the 1960s

And also see my Compilation Post, with links to my additional articles about Chinese restaurants, outside Boston and in Connecticut, as well as a number of related matters.

My research resources for this article included:
Berkshire Eagle, March 17, 1950
Boston American: January 27, 1952; June 15, 1953; August 3, 1953; August 10, 1953; March 28, 1954; May 8, 1957; July 31, 1958; October 2, 1958; December 8, 1958; April 9, 1959; April 10, 1959; February 28, 1969
Boston Daily Record: December 17, 1951; September 11, 1956; October 30, 1957; October 2, 1958; March 21, 1959; April 8, 1959
Boston Globe: April 22, 1917; December 10, 1918; May 19, 1920; March 17, 1921; May 28, 1921; January 23, 1922; September 21, 1923; September 27, 1923; June 7, 1924; February 25, 1928; June 18, 1930; July 2, 1935; October 24, 1938; November 4, 1938; September 16, 1940; October 15, 1940; December 16, 1940; February 5, 1941; April 5, 1944; January 18, 1945; February 26, 1945; September 10, 1945; July 5, 1947; September 15, 1947; September 16, 1947; September 18, 1947; September 19, 1947; September 20, 1947; April 16, 1948; August 17, 1948; September 24, 1948; October 14, 1948; October 15, 1948; February 11, 1949; March 16, 1950; March 17, 1950; March 20, 1950; December 28, 1956; July 8, 1957; July 26, 1957; October 30, 1957; October 2, 1958; December 7, 1962; October 16, 1967; February 27, 1969; May 18, 2003
Boston Herald: May 29, 1921; July 26, 1921; September 27, 1923; February 25, 1928; February 24, 1930; June 18, 1930; December 16, 1940; April 10, 1941; April 14, 1944; April 19, 1944; July 5, 1947; July 6, 1947;  September 16, 1947; September 17, 1947; September 18, 1947; September 19, 1947; September 24, 1948; February 2, 1950; March 16, 1950; October 30, 1957; April 8, 1959; December 28, 1962; March 27, 1976
Boston Traveler: February 6, 1941; April 16, 1948; October 14, 1948; May 3, 1949; February 27, 1950; March 16, 1950
Brooklyn Daily Eagle: March 31, 1942; July 23, 1948
Fitchburg Sentinel: July 21, 1939; September 4, 1948
Indianapolis Star: October 25, 1938
Lowell Sun: August 24, 1940; July 5, 1947; September 15, 1947; March 16, 1950;
North Adams Transcript: December 3, 1940
Patriot Ledger: April 19, 1944
Record Journal of Douglas (CO): May 4, 1945
San Bernardino Sun: March 8, 1938
Springfield Republican: June 19, 1931
Springfield Union: April 17, 1948; November 23, 1948.
Tampa Bay Times: October 25, 1938
Assessed Values of Real Estate in Boston, 1925 & 1926

(As of October 10, 2021, I added a little more information on Ruby's brother, George, who may have helped her found the original Ruby Food restaurant. As of June 10, 2021, I've expanded/revised this article due to additional research. The new information clarifies when Ruby was first married, and when she first arrived in Boston. It also provides additional support that Ruby was born in 1904.)

1 comment:

One who believes ignorance has no place in human society. said...

Correction Ruby Foo's son Earl Shong married Helen Irene Goon who was an American born in Boston, Ma. Helen Goon Shong was my Aunt. The Goon Family spent their childhood and adult lives in Boston, Ma. Part of the Goon family was in Canton for a few years during the Depression.
Earl Shong and Helen Goon Shong had a son name Richard Shong.