Monday, June 22, 2020

The First Restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown: A Deeper Look Into Two Restaurants (Part 8)

As I've mentioned before, my series on the First Restaurants in Boston's Chinatown began as a single article and eventually expanded to a seven-part series as well as two other related series and a number of additional articles. I consider it all to be a work in progress, as I continue to conduct new research, seeking other resources and information. Over time, these articles will continue to grow, becoming more and more comprehensive.

My newest article here takes a deeper look at two Chinese restaurants, one located in Boston's Chinatown and the other in Cambridge. These restaurants might share much in common with other Chinese restaurants of this time period, and thus present us with a better overall understanding. In addition, the information I consulted for this article points to a new source of untapped information which could provide even greater insight into the history of Chinese restaurants in Boston's Chinatown and Chinese restaurants all across Massachusetts.

Recently, I was contacted by Dr. Raymond Douglas Chong, who had read some of my Chinatown articles, and he shared some information about members of his own family who had once been involved in Boston's Chinatown. Dr. Chong also previously wrote an essay about his family in Boston's Chinatown. Chop Suey and Sushi from Sea to Shining Sea: Chinese and Japanese Restaurants in the United States, edited by Bruce Makoto Arnold, Tanfer Emin Tunc, and Dr. Chong. In addition, there's information about his family in Sweet and Sour: life In Chinese Family Restaurants by John Jung.

Most enlightening though was that Dr. Chong sent me a copy of the Immigration & Naturalization file of Chung Moi, his grandfather. That file contained plenty of fascinating information about two Chinese restaurants in Massachusetts, an intriguing insight into the workings of these restaurants. It also indicated that the Immigration & Naturalization files of other Chinese who worked in restaurants in Chinatown could possess valuable information. I owe Dr. Chong a debt of gratitude for sharing this file with me.


Dr. Chong's great grandfather, variously named Zhang Pei Lan, Pui Lan Chung and Hoy Lun Chung, came to Boston around 1892, and was the owner of a gambling hall and opium den in Boston's Chinatown, and possibly part of the On Leong Tong. At a later date, he also became a silent partner in the Imperial Restaurant in Cambridge. He might also have been a silent partner in a dry goods and food products store in San Francisco. In various newspaper archives, I was unable to find any additional information about his great grandfather.

Various sources provide numerous different names for Dr. Chong's grandfather, including Zhang Xi Shou, Zhang Yang Shou, Jung Thlick Sue, Chung Thlick Sue, Moi Chung, Chung Moi, and Chung Moy. And he is at the center of this article, and the subject of Immigration & Naturalization file, No. 2500/3190, which contained documents dated from 1921 to 1940.

As a bit of legal background, in May 1882, President Chester Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act which prohibited the entrance into the U.S. of Chinese laborers, skilled and unskilled, for a period of ten years. The Act had some exceptions for merchants, students, teachers, and diplomats. In 1892, the Act would be extended for another ten years by the Geary Act, which also added other strict legal requirement for the Chinese. And then, in 1902, the Act was made permanent until being nullified in 1943 by the Magnuson Act.

If a Chinese merchant, who was legally in the U.S., wanted to return to China for a visit, he might have difficulty returning to the U.S. unless he acquired a re-entry permit. To obtain such a permit, he had to prove that he qualified as a merchant. In early 1921, Chung Moi filed an Application of Lawfully Domiciled Chinese Merchant, Teacher or Student, for Preinvestigation of Status, as he wished to visit China. In addition to his application, he also had to undergo a verbal examination, and his file contained a transcript of that examination.

The application indicated that Chung Moi, who lived at 21 Harrison Avenue, was a partner in the Royal Restaurant, having acquired a $1700 interest in 1918. The names of some of the other partners were provided, though as they were written in cursive, it's not easy to decipher the names. Chung signed the application in both Chinese and English, giving his name in English as Chung Moy.

The transcript, dated May 13, 1921, provided a wealth of details. His "given name" was stated to be Chung Moi and his "school name" was Jung Thlick Sue. He also stated, ” I am of the Jung family.” At this time, Chung was 26 years old and worked as a manager at the Royal Restaurant in Boston's Chinatown.

As for Chung's history, he was born in China and came to San Francisco in 1912, where he stayed for about 3 years in a grocery & jewelry store. In Sweet and Sour, it was claimed that Chung's father was a silent partner in this store. Chung next moved to Boston, where he worked as a manager at the Imperial Restaurant in Cambridge for two years. On December 1, 1919, Chung began working at the Royal Restaurant, which had opened over ten years prior.

Kee Yow had been the manager at the Royal but sold his $500 interest to Chung. This amount is different than the $1700 listed in Chung's application, so it's possible that Chung acquired a larger interest some time after 1919. The restaurant actually had 42 partners, although only five were active, which now including Chung. The additional active partners included Ng Chung, who worked as a cashier and had a $1400 interest, Wong Foon, who worked as a cook and had a $300 interest, Lang Yow, who worked in the kitchen and had a $200 interest, and Quong Kwok Kee, who worked as a waiter and had a $100 interest. The total interest of all of the partners was $15,490.

The Royal restaurant, which occupied two floors, could seat over 100 people, and was protected with about $12,000 in insurance. They paid a monthly rent of $275 to the building owners, the S.Y. Tank Co. The restaurant made over $6,000 a month and in the previous year paid 10% in dividends to the partners. Chung originally received $90 a month in his position as the manager, but that amount had recently decreased to $70 as business had been dull.

A letter from the Commissioner of Immigration in East Boston, dated May 14, 1921, noted that “The Royal Restaurant is a first-class restaurant occupying two floors at 16 Harrison Ave., and is a reputable establishment.”

According to a letter from Chung Moy, dated June 16, 1923, he previously left the U.S. on June 16, 1921, traveling to the Man Yuen Lung & Co. in Hong Kong. He was now preparing to return to the U.S., having left Hong Kong on July 9, 1923 on the S.S. President Grant. According to Sweet and Sour, while Chung was in China, he married Huang Qin Chun and they had a son, Zhang Bao Shen, aka Chung Gim Suey, in 1922. When Chung returned to the U.S. in 1923, leaving his family behind in China, and then became a partner in the Imperial Restaurant.


Let's divert for a moment to discuss the Royal Restaurant. The Boston Globe, August 18, 1899, mentioned a Chinese banquet that was held at the Royal Restaurant on Harrison Avenue. The exact opening date of this restaurant is unclear but the Boston Globe, October 24, 1900, provided a notice that the partnership of the Royal Restaurant Company, located at 19 Harrison Avenue, was dissolved by mutual consent and the business sold to the Hong Kwai Hong Co., who would continue to operate a Royal Restaurant at 19 Harrison. It is also unclear if this restaurant was connected to the Royal Restaurant which would eventually be located at 16 Harrison Avenue. The last mention I found of a Royal Restaurant at 19 Harrison Avenue was in 1904.

The Boston Register and Business Directory (1914), compiled by Sampson & Murdock, had a listing for the Royal Restaurant at 16 Harrison Avenue. This is the first reference I found of the Royal at this address.

The Boston Globe, February 17, 1917, presented the advertisement above for The Royal Chinese American Restaurant, located at 16 Harrison Avenue. The restaurant apparently felt the need to indicate its independence from any other restaurant. It's possible this meant it wasn't connected to the Royal Restaurant that was at 19 Harrison.

This was also one of the first newspaper ads to reference “Chinese American” as nearly all of the previous restaurant ads referred only to “Chinese” restaurants. Many of the advertisements that now started being published combined the two cuisines, Chinese and American, likely trying to draw in more non-Chinese customers.

The Boston Herald, June 8, 1927, published a notice that Ming Toy, of Boston, bought the “good will and business” of the Royal Restaurant, at 16 Harrison Avenue, from Ng Chong


Chung's Immigration & Naturalization file also had a transcript, dated August 29, 1929, of his examination for another re-entry permit. It was noted that Chung Moi bore Certificate of Identity #7951, issued on July 6, 1912 in San Francisco when he was 17 years old, and admitted into the U.S. as a Section 6 Hong Kong student. Chung's given name was Chung Thlick Sue and he was born in the Yoong Lo Kong village, Hoy Ping district, China. At the time of the examination, Chung was described as 34 years old, 5' 5", and his occupation was a merchant, the manager of the Imperial Restaurant at 2 Central Square, Cambridge.

The transcript also revealed that Chung Moi was an active partner in the Imperial Restaurant, with a $700 interest which he purchased from Jung Hoy Lan on December 1, 1923. It seems very likely, based on his name, that this was his father, who had been a silent partner in the restaurant. Chung also replaced Howard Chew as the manager.

There were 33 partners in the restaurant, though only 7 were active. The active partners included Howard Chew (also known as Ju For), who worked as a cashier and buyer and had a $500 interest, Chu Chung (also known as Phillip Chu), who worked as a cook and was in charge of the kitchen, and had a $500 interest, Chu Jung Yu, who worked as a cook and had a $500 interest, Quan Chuck, who worked as a waiter and had a $500 interest, Ling Gim, who worked as a cook and had a $500 interest, Chu Yick Yin, who worked as a cook and had a $500 interest. The total capitalization of the restaurant was $13,500.

The restaurant's partnership book was submitted as evidence, and there was a question as of November 16, 1923, there were 34 partners listed. However, the extra partner was Ung Shu Hung, who was a silent partner with an interest of $200, and he sold his interest back to restaurant on February 3, 1929.

As the manager, Chung earned a salary of $100 per month, which was verified by the restaurant's salary book for the last 12 months. The restaurant, which sat about 170 people, leased their second-floor location, and their lease was set to expire in 1931. The premises had about $18,000 in insurance, including fire, plate glass and liability. It was also claimed that the restaurant did about $4,000 a month in business and the books showed that the restaurant made an average of $3500 a month for the last 12 months. This is significantly less than the $6,000 a month that the smaller Royal Restaurant had made when Chung was the manager there.

It was also mentioned that Chung had a wife, blood son, and two step sons, though their names was not provided. The reason Chung had applied for this re-entry permit was that he intended to visit Hong Kong again, leaving from Seattle, Washington.

A few witnesses also testified on behalf of Chung Moi. The primary question put to these witnesses centered on the following issue,  “The Chinese Exclusion Act defines a merchant as one engage in the buying and selling of merchandise at a fixed place of business, which business is conducted in his name, and who during the time he claims to be so engage, does not perform any manual labor except such as is necessary in the conduct of that business. In the case of a Chinese person claiming to be a merchant because of being connected with a restaurant, that he has performed no manual labor whatsoever during the material period, which is 12 months, just past last.”

One of the witnesses was Herbert Potter, a coffee and tea salesman, who sold his products to the restaurant. Another witness was Freeman Emerson, who worked at General Insurance in Boston, and had been involved in the insurance industry for about 25 years. Interestingly, he claimed to handle the insurance needs of about 90% of the local Chinese. He had known Moi since when he worked at the Royal Restaurant. The third witness was William Toohey, the sole white man employed by the restaurant. He was variously described as a porter, janitor and floor washer, and had worked at the restaurant for 12-14 years, earning $40 a month.

All three witnesses testified that they had only known Chung as the manager of the Imperial Restaurant, and had never seen him working as a waiter or in the kitchen. It was also noted that Chung, along with Phillip Chu, were the only ones who signed checks for the restaurant.

In a letter, dated August 31, 1929, from the U.S. Chinese Inspector to the Commissioner of Immigration in East Boston, Massachusetts, it stated,  “The Imperial Restaurant No.2 Central Square, Cambridge, Mass., accommodates about 170 people, is nicely fitted up and caters to a good class of trade and occupies the whole of the second floor at that address, which is divided off into three dining halls, kitchen and storeroom.” The inspector was also satisfied that “Chung Moi has maintained a mercantile status in accordance with the requirements during the material period.”

For unknown reasons, Chung Moi never traveled to China in 1929, and documents from 1940 indicated that Chung was requested to surrender his unused re-entry permit for his Certificate of Identity. At this point, Chung had moved from Massachusetts and lived at 339 ½ East First Street, Los Angeles, California. He surrendered the re-entry permit, and there was nothing else in his file.

Let's divert for a moment to discuss the Imperial Restaurant. Though the restaurant opened in October 1915, it encountered some obstacles, primarily due to racist fears that young women would be corrupted. The Boston Globe, June 23, 1915, noted that the Cambridge board of Aldermen engaged in considerable debate about whether to transfer a common victualler’s license to the proposed new restaurant. The license was to be transferred from James Ort's restaurant at 545 Massachusetts Avenue to his new spot at 2 Central Square, Cambridge. The board though just recently learned the proposed new restaurant was to serve Chinese cuisine.

Alderman Thomas Kennedy, the chairman of the committee, opposed the idea of having a Chinese restaurant in Cambridge and stated there was also opposition from local clergymen and others. Two other Aldermen spoke out in opposition while four Aldermen favored the license. However, the matter was tabled.

The Cambridge Sentinel, June 26, 1915, provided some more details, such as that James Ort previously ran Loud’s Lunch at 545 Massachusetts Avenue. The article also mentioned the opposition to the granting of license, stating “A number of the Aldermen claimed that it would be conducive to immortality, as young girls would most likely be enticed to up there.” The same, unfounded racist fears propagated in numerous cities and towns across the country. Two backers of the new restaurant, Elmer H. Bright and Harris Ginsberg, stated they would ensure it was properly conducted. It was also noted that the new rent for the premises would be six times the present rental.

The primary owner of the new restaurant was mentioned in the Cambridge Chronicle, July 31, 1915. Chin Fook & Co., merchants and bankers located on Harrison Avenue in Chinatown, took out the long lease on the Cambridge property. They took out the victualler's license in the name of James Ort, who was part of the company. The license had originally been taken out for a property at 545 Massachusetts Avenue, but that spot proved to be too small for their plans for a grand Chinese restaurant.

The Cambridge Tribune, October 2, 1915, had an advertisement for the Grand Opening of the Imperial Chinese Restaurant, offering Chinese and American foods. There would be “Special Table D’Hote Dinners, 25 cents to $1.50 per plate” and "A La Carte Bill-of-Fare", including "Chinese Chop Suey, Chow Mein, Soups, Candies, Nuts and Preserves--Chicken, Lobster and Oysters Served In All Styles.

In describing the Grand Opening, the Cambridge Sentinel, October 9, 1915, stated that the Imperial Restaurant was “one of the most elaborately equipped Chinese restaurants in the State." In addition, the article mentioned that “James Ort, the manager, has created a favorable impression on Cambridge people already, and will undoubtedly prove a popular man.” Elmer Bright, who was previously mentioned to be one of the restaurant's backers, was noted to be one of the owners of the building.

The restaurant proved to be quite popular, as noted in the Cambridge Sentinel, November 6, 1915, which also stated, “Perfect cooking is the policy here.” The photo above from that newspaper showed some of the typical guests at the restaurant. Plus, the article stated, “James Ort is the manager of the dining room, and shows that he is one of the shrewdest men of his native land.”

The restaurant was also said to be run quite well, and in the Cambridge Sentinel, November 27, 1915, it was noted that one of the aldermen who had previously opposed the transfer of the victualler's license, now was supporting the idea. The Boston Globe, December 1, 1915, then reported that the Board of Aldermen met the previous night and finally granted James Ort a common victualler’s license for the Imperial Restaurant. As I've mentioned in prior articles, a restaurant could open without such a license except they needed the license to operate on Sundays, open considered one of the most profitable days.

As a follow-up, the Cambridge Sentinel, December 4, 1915, received a letter to the editor from Alderman Thomas Kennedy, who had led the initial opposition to the granting of the license. He stated that the original application had been made about 7 months ago, but was denied about a month later.  Kennedy had generally been opposed to Chinese restaurants, worried that they led to immorality and would be a detriment to the community.

However, he noted in his letter that “...the Imperial Restaurant has been in business a sufficient time in which to demonstrate its character and to prove the assurance of its proprietor. It has been visited by the best people in the city, and I have heard nothing but praise alike for its clean character and its excellent service; Mr. Ort has renewed his petition for a license; no reason now to refuse it a license." This paved the way for the license to finally be granted.

A couple months later, it was stated in the Cambridge Chronicle, February 12, 1916, that the partnership of Chin Fook and James Ort had been dissolved by mutual consent.  James Ort was now a partner in the restaurant, with Quan Soon You and others, after they bought our the interest of Chin Fook, who had previously been the controlling owner. Ort was going to continue to work as the manager.

The Cambridge Chronicle, January 4, 1919, stated that the new Strand restaurant, at 575 Massachusetts Avenue, over the entrance to the new Central Square theater, was opening with James Ort as the manager. So, it appears that Ort had left the Imperial Restaurant. So, in 1923, Chung Moi was able to come to the Imperial, become a partner and the manager of the restaurant.

For about the next twenty years, ads for the Imperial Chinese Restaurant would be regularly printed in various newspapers, though the restaurant didn't appear to be mentioned in many articles. There didn't appear to be any significant problems with crime, or any issues about morality.

The Boston Herald, April 1, 1927, did report on a large fire that started on the 3rd floor of the four-story brick block at 1-5 ½ Central Square, where the Imperial Restaurant was located. 11 Chinese, employees of Imperial restaurant, were asleep in a dormitory on the 4th floor but they were awakened and no one was injured. The restaurant underwent some repairs and the Boston Herald, May 1, 1927, had an ad mentioning that the Imperial was open again and newly renovated. And during this time, the Cambridge Tribune, April 30, 1927, mentioned that the Imperial had received permission to allow dancing.

The Cambridge Sentinel, August 11, 1934, reported that the Imperial Chinese Restaurant was still as popular as ever. Chop suey remained very popular, as was take-out. The restaurant also offered music, both from a piano and the radio. The newspaper also stated, “The same high grade management continues.” However, in 1936, Chung Moi decided to sell his interest in the restaurant and move to California.

The end of the restaurant was sometime in 1948, as noted by a Boston Herald, August 1, 1948, publishing an ad for an auction sale of the equipment of the former Imperial Restaurant. However, I didn't find the reasons for what was likely the bankruptcy of the restaurant. It's possible they weren't able to weather the travails of World War II, and couldn't come back once the war ended. However, they thrived for over thirty years, solidifying a spot in the history of Chinese restaurants in Cambridge.


In comparing the Royal Restaurant and Imperial Restaurant, we see that the first one had a seating capacity of about 100 while the second count seat about 170 people. These were both larger-sized restaurants and required a fair amount of capital to establish. The Royal had a capitalization of $15,490 while the Imperial had $13,500, garnered from 42 partners and 33 partners, respectively. This can provide some foundation for speculation as to other Chinese restaurants during this period.

The five active partners at the Royal had interests ranging from $100 to $1700, while the seven active partners at the Imperial averaged at $500 interest each. It generally cost about $500 to start a Chinese laundry, and starting a restaurant was more expensive, and beyond the means of many Chinese. That is an important reason why so many Chinese started laundries rather than restaurants. However, by forming larger partnerships, Chinese could become part of a restaurant for a similar investment to starting a laundry.

As for the active partners, they all worked in the restaurant, occupying positions from waiter to cook, cashier to manager. How many waiters in modern restaurants are active partners in a restaurant? Very few. Little was said about the silent partners in these restaurants, except the one time they received dividends of 10%.

We also got a small glimpse into some of the monthly wages of the restaurant workers, such as Chung who received a salary ranging from $70 to $100 a month as a manager. We also noted that a janitor/porter was paid $40 a month for his services.

As for the restaurants' incomes, the Royal was earning about $6000 a month while the Imperial only earned about $3500. Considering the low cost of much of the Chinese cuisine, these restaurants were likely doing a very good business, especially the Royal. Today, that monthly $6,000 would be equivalent to about $86,000, equating to about $1 Million a year. And the monthly $3500 would be equivalent to about $52,000, equating to about $624,000 a year.


This has been a fascinating and deeper dive into the history of the local Chinese restaurant industry. More research is certainly warranted into other Immigration & Naturalization files of Chinese restaurant merchants. It would help to build a more comprehensive view and history of Chinese restaurants in Massachusetts, and elsewhere. And I'll continue to expand these historical articles. 

The First Restaurants In Boston's Chinatown
Check out Part 1covering the 19th century
Check out Part 2, covering the years 1901-1920
Check out Part 3, covering the 1920s.
Check out Part 4, the tale of Ruby Foo.
Check out Part 5, covering 1930-1959
Check out Part 6, the tale of Anita Chue
Check out Part 7, the tale of Mary Yick
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.

1 comment:

emananon said...

I was recently referred to your blog and read it for the first time today. I grew up as a boy in Boston and your research about the first restaurants is fascinating. I looks like you have spent a lot of time researching the subject and writing about it. thanks very much for doing that and providing us a glimpse of the past.