Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The First Chinese Restaurants in Connecticut (Part 2)

Where were the 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 an extensive five-part series, The First Restaurants In Boston's Chinatown, and a seven-part series, The First Chinese Restaurants Outside Boston. The second series expanded my coverage from Boston to a number of other cities and towns in Massachusetts, from Cambridge to North Adams, Malden to Quincy. I'm now expanding my coverage outside of Massachusetts, to cover various city and towns in Connecticut. Part One dealt with New Haven and Part Two now deals with Hartford & Bridgeport.


As mentioned in Part One, the first Chinese restaurant in New Haven opened for only three months before closing and deciding to move to Hartford. The Hartford Courant, February 3, 1898, noted the New Haven closure and that a Chinese restaurant would soon open at 184 State Street in Hartford.  They were excited about this new restaurant, stating it was “Another evidence that Hartford has become a metropolis…” The new Chinese spot would be named The Sign of the Yellow Dragon, headed by Charles Ying, and they would have a noted cook from Boston. There would actually be two cooks, one who would cook just American dishes. The restaurant would specialize in chop suey, but would offer other dishes too, such as chicken soup, boiled chicken, roast duck a la Chinese, and Chinese omelets.

The Hartford Courant, February 19, 1898, published an ad for this new Chinese Restaurant, mentioning its address was actually 182 State Street and that the proprietor was Do Yan Low. It's interesting that the restaurant opened at 9 a.m.. Chow Chop Sooy was noted as their specialty.

However, Do Yan Low lasted only about seven months before selling the restaurant. The Hartford Courant, September 30, 1898, reported that Low sold the place to Wah Hop of Hartford and Tung Ham of New Britain. The new owners would formally take possession as soon as their cook arrived. Why was that? The article stated, “In Chinese restaurants the cook is of more importance than the proprietor, for when the cook leaves the doors close. Do Yan Low lost his cook and gave up as he was unable to get another.” The new owners had hired a cook from New York, who had previously worked in San Francisco. The new spot would be called the Wah Hop Café, though Tung Ham had wanted the place named after him. They owners decided that Ham might have been confusing to Americans and didn't sound Chinese enough.

Days later, there was a fire near the new restaurant. The Hartford Courant, October 3, 1898, reported about a large fire on State Street, that fortunately didn't spread much to the Wah Hop Cafe. The article noted the restaurant had a sign made out of peacock feathers and paper flowers, and that sign was considerably scorched.

Another Chinese restaurant, the King Far Low, was briefly mentioned in the Hartford Courant, September 21, 1901. Later newspapers would indicate this restaurant was located at 21 Central Row. The Hartford Courant, March 3, 1903, mentioned that 60 of the most prominent of Chinese residents of Hartford met at King Far Low, owned by Lee Foo. They organized a branch of the Chinese Empire Reform Association. In the Hartford Courant, November 14, 1906, there was a mention that the restaurant's head cook was Mr. Lee.

A number of other Chinese restaurants appeared in Hartford over the next several years, though few details were provided. The Hartford Courant, June 2, 1908, mentioned two restaurants, a chop-suey house on Central Row (which could have been King Far Low) and a Chinese restaurant at 60 Temple Street, owned by Frank Sing.

The article also discussed Mrs. Charley Fong, who was probably the first Chinese woman, direct from China, to have visited Hartford. She arrived the prior week with her husband from New York. She had a local connection to Hartford as her maiden name was Miss Sing and she was a cousin to the above-mentioned Frank Sing.

The Hartford Courant, June 22, 1909, mentioned a Chinese restaurant at 40 Temple Street, owned by Wing Lee. This appeared to be the second Chinese restaurant on this street.

Wing Lee apparently owned a store as well. The Hartford Courant, November 6, 1909, noted Wing Lee had a Chinese Goods & Tea Store at 60 Temple Street.

The Hartford Courant, May 16, 1910, stated that Wing Lee, of 60 Temple Street, who was also the head of the Four Brothers, a powerful Chinese organization, told the police that High Binders, killers from the On Leong Tong, were in Hartford, seeking to slay members of the Four Brothers. Four strange Chinese were seen on State Street, and they might have been the killers. Wing noted that his people would defend themselves against the High Binders.

A closing. The Hartford Courant, July 14, 1910, reported a serious fire at 22 Central Row, noting that the second floor had been occupied by a Chinese restaurant, owned by K. Farlow, but he had moved away 2 weeks ago and closed the restaurant. This appears to be a mistake, that the restaurant's name was King Far Low, and that wasn't the actual owner's name.

Tong issues! The Hartford Courant, January 23, 1911, reported that three Chinese were arrested at the grocery store of Wing Lee, at 60 Tremont Street. Local Chinese alleged these three were blackmailers and "bad men" from New York, members of the On Leong Tong. When the police tried to arrest them, one pulled a gun but to no avail. Nothing ever resulted from the tong scare of May 1910, but now fear was there again, worries that the On Leong would send more men as these three had been apprehended.

Federal raids. The Hartford Courant, January 12, 1912, reported on three raids by the federal authorities on Chinese locations in Hartford. The local police were unaware of the raids until after the first one occurred. Wing Lee, the owner of a Chinese store at 60 Tremont Street was arrested as they found two pounds of opium in his building. This location was also the headquarters of the Four Brothers. Wing claimed he kept the opium to smoke himself. Under federal law, opium could only be sold for medicinal purposes, and selling it just for smoking could lead to a heavy fine. Wing was actually the only person arrested from these raids.

There was another raid at 118 State Street, which was owned by Chung Hong Hang. This building had a Chinese general store on the first floor and the rear of this room was a place where Chinese frequented. On the second floor, Chinese gambling equipment was found. On another room on this floor, they found some empty opium boxes and several weapons, from a couple revolvers to a knife. On the third floor was a Chinese temple, a joss house. The top floor had a number of bunks. The third raid was at the Shanghai restaurant at 163 State Street. No opium was found there and no one was arrested.

The Chinese claimed that they had been framed by a rival, the On Leong Tong. Others claimed that the information behind the raids was provided by the On Leong.

More Chinese restaurants. The Hartford Courant, March 11, 1913, noted a Chinese restaurant at 163 State Street. Later, the Hartford Courant, January 20, 1914, referenced a Chinese restaurant on Morgan Street, and near the end of that year, the Hartford Courant, December 20, 1914, stated the Morgan Street restaurant was named the Hong Kong Chinese restaurant.

Another opium raid. The Hartford Courant, December 9, 1914, reported that a raid had been conducted at the Shanghai restaurant at 163 State Street. A raid had been conducted about three years prior, though it hadn't led to seizing any opium and there hadn't been any arrests. This time was different. The owner, Wong Lin, also known as Lin Kee, was arrested for manufacturing opium for smoking, a federal crime where the penalty was a minimum of five years in state or federal prison.

The article stated, "The raid disclosed conditions which indicate that Hartford has been for a period of at least three years the center of a system of vice and crime, the extent of which had not even been dreamed of." Besides the opium, lots of gambling equipment was found, and the building was also considered to be absolutely filthy and unsanitary. Police heard rumors that opium addicted Chinese were coming to Hartford, and mostly to the State Street area, so they put the area under surveillance.

It was alleged that Wong Lin made over $20 a day selling opium, which he probably purchased in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where the state laws were more lax. The drug usually sold for $9-$18 a pound, which could be turned into smoking opium, which sold for $75 a pound. Quite a nice profit. Wong, who was 54 years old, was born in China and has lived in Hartford for about 14 years.

In follow-up, the Hartford Courant, December 10, 1914, it was claimed that Wong had contacted the Hip Sing Tong about his arrest, though he denied any such connection. It was also alleged that a white woman, Ruth Flanagan, found at the building when the authorities raided it, may have been buying the opium for Wong. Ruth frequently travelled to Boston and New York, frequenting Chinese joints. The evidence seemed to indicate her potential involvement in supplying the opium for manufacture into a smoking form.

And the restaurants continued opening. The Hartford Courant, August 12, 1915, mentioned that "a first-class Chinese restaurant" was soon to be located at 257 Asylum Street and would be known as the Canton Restaurant. It would be operated by Charles B. Quong, Wu Fung, Wu Soon, and Wu Tong (all cousins), who had experience in the restaurant business and operated another restaurant in Springfield, Massachusetts. The new restaurant was expected to open around August 24.

The Hartford Courant, August 22, 1915, published an ad for The Canton Restaurant, and there was also an accompanying article noting that the manager was Charles Quong, who was American born. The restaurant would offer both American and Chinese cuisine, and had a capacity of 125 persons. It was also noted in the Hartford Courant, October 2, 1915, that this Canton restaurant was a branch of the Springfield, Massachusetts, Canton restaurant.

The feds make another opium raid. The Daily Advocate, August 7, 1916, reported that a Chinese restaurant was raided, though the brief article failed to mention its name or address. The federal authorities seized thousands of dollars worth of opium, arrested two Chinese men, and also two women, Helen Hoffman, age 22, of Philadelphia, and Frances Harris, age 22, of New York. The two women were fined $7 each, and the two Chinese were also fined. No action against the restaurant was mentioned.

Another new Chinese spot. The Hartford Courant, March 21, 1917, stated that the former National Exchange Bank, at 76 State Street, had been leased, for fifteen years, to the Thomas E. Lee & Co. of New York, They planned to establish a Chinese restaurant, hoping to open by June 1. The  company already controlled 2 restaurants in New York and 1 in New Haven. They had also, until recently, owned one in Fall River but they sold it.

The Hartford Courant, April 29, 1917, noted the Grand Opening of the Nankin Restaurant, located at 293 Asylum Street. The restaurant would open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., and serve breakfast in the mornings.

Another opening. The Hartford Courant, August 18, 1917, published an ad for The Oriental, located at 730 Main Street, and offering American and Chinese cuisine.

And one more opening. The Hartford Courant, October 24, 1917, posted this ad for The Far East Garden, at 76 State Street, which stated it was "A Dining Place Unusual"

One more! The Hartford Courant, April 7, 1918, mentioned that a new Chinese restaurant, the Ningpo Restaurant, would open in several day at 739 Main Street. The resturant was owned by Wong H. Hop. The Chinese Students Monthly, November 1920-June 1921, also had an ad for The Ningpo Restaurant, which offered Chinese and American food, including Mandarin Style Dinners. They were open from 11am to Midnight, and had orchestral music. Wong Hop was listed as the managing director.

Chinatown in Hartford? The Hartford Courant, December 14, 1919, published an intriguing article, titled, Hartford's Chinatown, a Place of Mystery, With Trick Stumbling Step and Queer Altar. It was also subtitled, "There Isn't Much of it but it has Plenty of Oriental Atmosphere, Where Good-Natured Members of Two Secret Chinese Organizations Dream of Mountains of Laundry Checks and Oceans of Chop Suey--Closed Doors and Eastern Reticence Add to the Charm of Gazing Through Windows at the Gathering-Place of the Clans." The article began by discussing the headquarters of the two secret societies in Hartford, both on State Street, the Quong Kong and the On Lung Tong. It was also noted that, "These two secret organizations are practically all that Hartford has to call Chinatown..."

The headquarters of the Quong Kong, the Four Brothers, usually had an open door, but one of the stairs had a defect, which created a kind of alarm to notify the Chinese of a potential intruder. The Quong Kong was said to be similar to the Free Masons. The Quong Kong and Tongs have had violent clashes in the past, in other cities, though they have been more friendly in recent years, and in Hartford, they co-existed peacefully. The Quong Kong headquarters had been in Hartford for about seven years. The On Lung headquarters was formerly a restaurant, and the article didn't mention how long the Tong had been based at the building.

The Chinese Students Monthly, November 1920-June 1921, also had an ad for the Oriental Restaurant, noting "All kinds of Chinese dishes put in boxes to take home."

The Hartford Courant, May 15, 1922, reported that Wing Lee, who owned a store at 124 State Street, was arrested for a liquor violation, when Federal agents raided his store and found 16 bottles of Chinese liquor.

Murder in Schenectady. According to the Hartford Courant, October 13, 1924, two Chinese residents of Hartford, Joe Samee and Fung Chung, were arrested in Schenectady for murder. There were worries that this was related to a Tong war and it was feared that members of the Hip Sing would go to Hartford, seeking revenge for this murder. In Hartford, the four adjacent Chinese businesses and residences, from 110 to 128 State Street, tried to bunker down.

The businesses included an importing store, the Yung Sing Co., located on the first floor of 128 State Street. On the second floor of 124 State Street was the tea shop of the Wing Lee Company. 118 State Street was the Chinese Free Society Mission and the second floor of 110 State Street was the Chinese curiosity shop of Hong Kee Co.

The police believed that there had been peace between the Tongs since 1913, but recent murders in Philadelphia and New York seemed to indicate war was ongoing. One alleged reason for this outbreak of violence was that twelve members of the On Leong had been found guilty of stealing $40,000 from the tong. They were ousted and the Hip Sing promised they would not provide aid to them. However, when those members got in trouble in Ohio, the Hip Sing bailed them out.

Violence came to Hartford. The Hartford Courant, November 27, 1924, reported that two Chinese, Sam Lee (also known as Lung Foo) and another man thought to be Yung To Wing (Sam's nephew), were shot and killed at their laundry at 43 Park Street. On the night in question, three shots were fired in the laundry and the gunmen fled, though Yung To Wing tried to follow then, receiving a bullet to the chest. Sam and Yung were members of the On Leong Tong. J. K. Ping, of 38 Church Street, New Britain, was the President of the Hartford branch of the On Leong.

Three weeks prior, Sam had received a threatening letter, demanding he join the Hip Sing. These two murders were thought to be retaliation for the recent murder of a Chinese merchant, a member of the Hip Sing, in Schenectady. The killers of Sam and Yung hadn't been caught yet.

The Hartford Courant, August 26, 1925, noted new worries about a possible Tong War. There was an increased police presence in the area of State Street. The local On Leong headquarters had been moved from 54 Market Street to 142 State Street.

Unfortunately, once again, most of the newspapers during this period didn't provide sufficient information about these early Chinese restaurants in Hartford, only some tantalizing and brief references. Maybe I'll find more information in my future research.


The first Chinese restaurant in Bridgeport may have been established in 1902, though it is possible it was founded a little earlier. The first reference I found was in The Morning Journal-Courier, July 28, 1902, which briefly mentioned the existence of a Chinese restaurant on State Street. The Morning Journal-Courier, July 4, 1907, also briefly mentioned this restaurant.

The Bridgeport Times & Evening Farmer, April 6, 1909, noted that Charles Hung ran a Chinese restaurant on State Street. Is this the same restaurant which had been around since 1902? Possibly so. The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, November 26, 1909, also mentioned that Chu Lem, aka Charles Lee, was also one of the owners of this Chinese restaurant, located at 31 State Street.

Another Chinese restaurant was mentioned at being on Bank Street in the Bridgeport Evening Farmer, December 9, 1909. Then we return to the State Street restaurant. The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, December 13, 1909, mentioned the existence of Hong Quong’s Chinese restaurant on State Street, and that the owner's wife was waitress. Was this a different restaurant, also on State Street? Or had it been sold? Too many questions without answers.

More tidbits. The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, August 2, 1910, noted that Quong Que was a waiter at a Chinese restaurant at State & Water Streets. There were then two brief mentions of a Chinese restaurant on State Street in the Bridgeport Evening Farmer, March 4, 1912 and March 10, 1914.

Another State Street restaurant. The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, April 10, 1915, reported that the Low Ben Fung Chinese restaurant, located at 67 State Street, underwent a sanitary inspection and the inspectors found “appalling conditions,” awarding it their lowest mark. The inspector found 16 people in sleeping bunks adjacent to the kitchen, and that the two toilets were “found communicating with the same food supply room."

Then, the Bridgeport Evening Farmer, December 5, 1918, mentioned an altercation at a Chinese restaurant at 65 State Street. Long Tow, a waiter, fought with John Gonsalves, a customer, and both were in the hospital with severe bruises and lacerations. Gonsalves claimed there was a roach in his food and refused to pay while Tow demanded the money. When Gonsalves tried to leave without paying, it's alleged Tow rushed him with a club and hit him in the head. Gonsazles then hit Long in the head with a dish. A chaotic fight then resulted. As a follow-up, the Bridgeport Evening Farmer, December 6, 1918, noted that Long Tow had a fractured skull and was in critical condition. A second assailant was identified, Mike Mora, and Gonsalves and he were both held on $1500 bond.

Opium for sale? The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, January 26, 1911, reported on the arrest of Charles Hong, who owned a Chinese restaurant and grocery store at State and Water Streets. The police allege that someone bought two small jars of opium there. Although, Hong tried to deny the sale, a police officer identified him as the seller. Hong was charged with violating the pure food law, however such a violation may not have occurred. First, the opium was found to be pure and the bottles had no label, so they weren't mislabeled. It was also noted that Hong doesn’t use opium as he is going blind. I couldn't find a resolution to this matter, though it seems that Hong may have been able to defeat the charge.

A poisoned special policeman. The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, December 18, 1911, stated that Charles Sessler, a New Haven special policeman who had worked as a day watchman at the new Taft hotel for 2 months, was potential poisoned by opium. Sessler, who was married and lived at 24 Olive Street in New Haven, came to Bridgeport on a Saturday. During his time in Bridgeport, he visited The Orient Chinese restaurant, located on Water Street, and ordered a steak. Before his food arrived, he fell to the floor in a stupor, and died. Though some of his relatives thought he might have died due to an asthmatic attack, the autopsy revealed he died of narcotic poisoning. It was unknown when and where he obtained the opium.

As a follow-up, the Bridgeport Evening Farmer, December 19, 1911, reported that the Coroner determined Sessler was a heroin user, and likely died of an overdose. The Coroner found the druggist who had supplied Sessler on multiple occasions. The article stated, "Heroin is a mild form of opium in powder, and is generally taken as a snuff. Its sale is not prohibited."

Another opium arrest. The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, March 22, 1916 and the New Britain Herald, March 22, 1916, both reported that there was a raid at the Chinese restaurant owned by Leon Gim. A quantity of opium was found in a safe and a warrant was issued for Gim for unlawful opium possession. Gim was already being held for trial for violating the liquor statues, and he was going to be turned over to federal authorities. ;

A couple other brief restaurant mentions. The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, November 8, 1916, stated there was a Chinese restaurant at Fairfield Avenue, near Main Street. The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, November 17, 1917, noted The Canton, a Chinese restaurant at 91 State Street.

Another opium raid. The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, February 6, 1919, detailed another opium raid at a Chinese restaurant, located at State and Water streets, which was owned by Hong Yuen & Co. and managed by Hein Wang. 15 Chinese were found there but no opium was found,. The police did find enough paraphernalia to ensure though that opium was sold and used there.

The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, May 29, 1919, mentioned that Grand Opening of an American and Chinese Restaurant, located at 989 Broad Street, opposite City Hall. It was noted that they make their own pastry.

Tong violence? The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, July 3, 1919, reported that Leong Kim, a cook at a Chinese restaurant, was arrested for “uttering threats” against Leong Hing, the owner of another restaurant. The police alleged that Kim was the chosen agent of a local Chinese Tong which wanted to kill Hing. Hing supposedly had informed to the federal authorities about opium smuggling and other Chinese crimes. The Tong had several men draw lots and Kim won the opportunity to kill Hing.

As a follow-up, the Norwich Morning Bulletin, July 4, 1919, reported that Kim had admitted he was going to kill Hing, and that if he didn’t, someone else would have done so. Then, the Hartford Courant, July 4, 1919, mentioned the police were investigating possible Tong involvement in the city.

The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, November 15, 1919, noted that James Lewis, the owner of the Far East Chinese restaurant had filed for bankruptcy.

In The Chinese Students Monthly, November 1920-June 1921, there was an ad for The Republic Restaurant, located at 147 Fairfield Avenue. It served American and Chinese cooking, had dancing and music, and its manager was Leong Shew.

Also check out:
Part 1: NewHaven 
Part 3: New Britain, New London, Stamford, and Waterbury

To Be Continued...

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The Far East Garden apparently moved to (or reopened at) 1001 Main Street (, under of the management of Percy H. Y. Lee, who was evidently an important person in both the local Chinese community and international politics: and most interestingly