Thursday, April 23, 2020

The First Chinese Restaurants in Connecticut (Part 3)

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 dealt with Hartford & Bridgeport. Part Three now deals with New Britain, New London, Stamford, and Waterbury.


Possibly the first Chinese restaurant in New Britain opened in 1917. The New Britain Herald, July 18, 1917, published an ad for The Asia, located at 73 Church Street, which planned to open on July 19 and would offer American and Chinese cuisine.

The New Britain Herald, September 5, 1918, noted that an existing restaurant at 294 Main Street had been sold to Chang Ben, who owned The Asia. Though it seemed maybe Ben would open a second restaurant, he merely relocated The Asia. The New Britain Herald, September 30, 1918, provided a brief noticed that The Asia would now be doing business at 294 Main Street, the former location of Walsh's Restaurant. It would offer a Special Dinner for 35 cents, from 11am-2pm.

The New Britain Herald, November 26, 1918, published an ad for The Asia, noting its Thanksgiving Day Dinner Menu. Mostly American dishes, there was also a course of Chicken Chow Mein or Chicken Chop Suey.

The New Britain Herald, October 10, 1918, posted an advertisement for a new American and Chinese restaurant, The Republic, located at 25 Myrtle Street, which was planned to open on October 10.

A curious law suit. The New Britain Herald, April 8, 1919, reported that there will soon be a hearing on a suit of summary process brought by John J. Walsh against Chong Ben for possession of 294 Main Street, the location of The Asia restaurant. No more details of the suit were provided. Whatever happened in this suit, it appeared The Asia continued to operate.

Striking waitresses. The New Britain Herald, June 9, 1919, mentioned that four waitresses at The Asia restaurant went on strike at noon, demanding higher pay. The waitresses were currently earning $6 a week, plus meals, but claimed that a few weeks prior, they had been making $8 a week. The waitresses left the restaurant during the busy lunch hour and the owner, Chong Ben, accused them to stealing the menus, which they denied. The women want their pay to be returned to $8 a week.

Sold! The New Britain Herald, May 4, 1921, Chong Ben sold The Asia to James Chromides, a chef who used to work at White's Cafe. Ben would now dedicate all his time to his Chinese store in Hartford.


The Morning Journal and Courier, July 20, 1881, stated that Hung Wah, a Chinese laundryman who has lived in New London for two years, has vanished, and might have committed suicide. He has been sick and disappointed, and wouldn't avail himself of an American doctor. It is thought he might have drowned himself, as he had frequently mentioned he wouldn't die at home, but rather at the river, so his spirit could more easily return to China. In follow-up, the Morning Journal and Courier, July 25, 1881, mentioned that Hung Wah's body was found in the New London harbor. It is believed he committed suicide by drowning.

The first mention I found to a Chinese restaurant in New London was in 1911, though the restaurant could have existed prior to this year. The Norwich Morning Bulletin, April 15, 1911, mentioned the existence of a Chinese restaurant on Bradley Street, noting that its owner, Wong Yeng Yen had suddenly died of heart disease. This was only the second Chinese to have died in New London, the first thing Hung Wah. Wah was the first Chinese to move to New London and for many years, he was the only one, running a laundry on Bradley Street. His nephew, Sam Wing Sing, eventually came from China to assist him, making him the second Chinese to move to New London. At some point, Hung Wah became sick, lacked faith in American doctors, and ended up committing suicide by drowning.

The Norwich Morning Bulletin, March 13, 1916, briefly noted that Lem Troy owned a Chinese restaurant in New London.

White slavery? The Norwich Morning Bulletin, June 9, 1916, reported that Le Tong, 36 years old, who conducts, manages and is maybe an owner of a Chinese restaurant at the corner of Green and Golden Streets, was arrested in New York for violation of the Mann White Slavery Act. A suspicious police officer witnessed Le Tong accompanied by a young white woman, who turned out to be Julia Carson, The officer followed them on the train from New London to New York Central Station, where Le and Julia were both arrested.

As a follow-up, the Norwich Morning Bulletin, June 23, 1916, reported that after an investigation, the New York authorities felt there was insufficient evidence against Lee Tong and Julia Carson so they were both released.

Briefly, the Norwich Morning Bulletin, August 6, 1917, noted that the Mon Hing Low Co. owned an American and Chinese restaurant at 18 Bank Street. They were looking for experienced waitresses.

The Norwich Morning Bulletin, June 6, 1918, mentioned that a Pawcatuck laundryman would soon open a Chinese restaurant in New London, bringing the total number of Chinese restaurants to four.


Some of the earliest Chinese in Stamford. The Daily Advocate, February 20, 1893, noted that about three years ago, a non-sectarian Sunday-School for the resident Chinese was started by some Christian women in the Presbyterian church. There are currently 10 Chinese members in the school, although one has returned to China, and some of the students come from neighboring cities. All of the Chinese in Stamford go to the school, and generally own or work in the Chinese laundries. Laundry owners commonly make about $40 a week while their assistants earn $10 a week.

The first mention of a Chinese restaurant in Stamford is in 1908. The Daily Advocate, February 3, 1908, briefly mentioned that Chin Jim owned a Chinese restaurant at 442 Main Street. A few weeks later, the Daily Advocate, February 21, 1908, noted that Chin’s restaurant has been in the hands of Constable Schlechtweg for a day or so. Chin had called the police and wanted them to remove his "keeper," which seems to refer to his manager. No reasons for this request were provided, and I couldn't find any additional references to this restaurant.

Another new Chinese restaurant. The Daily Advocate, August 13, 1908, mentioned that Andow & Company, which owns restaurants in other towns, was going to open a Chinese restaurant at 442 Main Street. Again, there weren't any additional references to this restaurant.

And a third restaurant. The Daily Advocate, April 10, 1919, noted that the Canton Company would soon open a Chinese restaurant at 99 Atlantic Street, occupying the three floors above Gounden’s Pharmacy. The restaurant was granted a permit to erect a huge electric sign at their restaurant. A week later, the Daily Advocate, April 18, 1919, mentioned that the restaurant would open next week.

The Daily Advocate, May 16, 1919, published an advertisement for The Canton, and the picture above is the top portion of the ad. The restaurant, which is open from 11am-1am, also offers music every night from 5pm-8pm. The bottom portion listed some of the American and Chinese dishes on the menu, noting they were all served to order. The ad also mentioned that served a Regular Dinner Daily, from 11am-2pm, for 45 cents; a Regular Supper Daily, from 5pm-8pm, for 35 cents to 75 cents; and a Special Sunday Dinner, from 12pm-3pm, for 85 cents.

Another new spot. The Daily Advocate, March 5, 1924, printed an ad for a new Chinese Restaurant, Lem Tom Co., located at 19 Gay Street, which offered a Regular Dinner for 40 cents.

Open and close. The Daily Advocate, February 25, 1926, reported that The Republic, a Chinese restaurant which opened 2 months ago in the Advocate Building, had been closed by Constable Andrew Schlechtweg. It seems that several creditors sought the closure, including some musicians who hadn’t been paid in several weeks. It doesn't appear that this restaurant ever reopened.

The Canton restaurant appears to have continued to operate until likely the spring of 1927, when The Daily Advocate, May 5, 1927, reported that a serious fire torched much of the building housing the restaurant and a number of other businesses.


Leprosy fears! The Morning Journal-Courier, February 18, 1886, reported that Sing Lee, a laundryman, was found sick, with his lower limbs covered in white spots. Initially the Medical Examiner thought it was leprosy and it was said that maybe all of the Chinese in Waterbury might have to be relocated. However, the New Haven Register, February 18, 1886, then reported that it wasn’t leprosy, only blood eruptions in the legs. Sing had used flaxseed on his legs, which gave the impression of skin discoloration.

The first Chinese restaurant in Waterbury seems to have opened in 1903. The Waterbury Democrat, January 12, 1903, noted that a Chinese man from New York intended to soon open a Chinese restaurant on East Main Street near North Elm Street.

However, the Waterbury Democrat, January 26, 1903, published an ad for the Canton Restaurant at 217 South Main Street. Their menu included American and Chinese dishes, as well as special Chinese teas. Was the January 12 edition incorrect in the location of the new restaurant, actually being South rather than East Main Street? The Waterbury Democrat, April 6, 1903, noted there was a Chinese restaurant on South Main Street and the Waterbury Democrat, January 7, 1904, mentioned this restaurant was named the Canton. There didn't seem to be any ads for any restaurant on East Main Street.

Curiously, the Waterbury Democrat, June 28, 1904, had an ad for a Chinese Restaurant, at 217 South Main Street, which served “First-Class Chop Suey. Regular Meal 25 cents.” Though the name of the Canton restaurant is not listed in this ad, it is definite this ad refers to that spot, based on future ads found after this date.

The Morning Journal & Courier, August 25, 1905, noted that Chin Sam, who owns the Canton Restaurant, and his wife gave birth to a daughter, said to be the first child born to an all-Chinese couple in the city. Later, the Norwich Morning Bulletin, April 12, 1909, mentioned that a son was born to Chin Sam and wife, the only Chinese couple in Waterbury. Sam was also said to be known as the “Mayor of Chinatown.” And what Chinatown was referred to, as Waterbury obviously didn't have a Chinatown.

The Hartford Courant, August 7, 1909, mentioned that Chin Sam, also known as Gee Wah Lung,  restaurant keeper and tea merchant, had filed for bankruptcy. His liabilities are around $1600 and his assets only about $700.

There was a brief mention in the Hartford Courant, June 12, 1909, that the Hodsons ran a Chinese restaurant in Waterbury. And the Hartford Courant, February 4, 1913, mentioned that two Chinese restaurants in Waterbury were robbed, one located at 376 East Main Street and the other on South Main Street

Also check out:
Part 1: NewHaven 
Part 2: Hartford & Bridgeport

To Be Continued...

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