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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The First Restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown: The 1960s (Part 9)

The decade of the 1960s were turbulent times, from the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the Vietnam War, from the Civil Rights movement to various riots, and much more. With all these important issues occupying the news, it's not surprising that Boston's Chinese restaurants received much less attention during this decade.

During the 1960s, there would be far fewer advertisements for Chinese restaurants, except brief ads in a column format. However, there would be many requests in the newspapers for Chinese recipes, as more homemakers were trying to cook Chinese cuisine at home.

I've previously written a couple articles touching on Chinese restaurants during the 1960s, including The Tale of Anita Chue and A Chinese Restaurant in Mayberry? This article will provide additional information on this decade, and know that it is a work in progress, which will expand and grow over time. 

The Boston Traveler, January 4, 1960, presented this column of ads for several local Chinese restaurants, including The Cathay House (70 Beach Street), China House (146 Boylston), Eddie Davis’ Steak House (444 Stuart St.), and Joyce Chen (617 Concord Ave). This type of column advertisement was very common during the 1960s. 


Joyce Chen opened her first restaurant in Cambridge in 1958, and I briefly discussed her in my prior article Peking Duck: A History In The Local Region & Chinatown. Her restaurant was the first in the Boston+ region to serve Mandarin cuisine and Peking Duck. Chen was also a pioneer in a number of other respects, such as popularizing the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and coining the term "Peking ravioli." During the 1960s, Joyce's popularity would soar. 

She owned her restaurant with her husband, Thomas Chen (who also worked as the manager). The Boston American, September 27, 1958, reported that one night, Thomas Chen had just closed the restaurant, and was walking with two employees, chefs, named Ling Chau and T.P. Liu. Two masked gunmen robbed them, including pistol, whipping Ling Chau. The gunmen got about $600, including the day’s receipts and the men's personal cash.  

In the Boston Globe, March 29, 1960, there was a larger advertisement for the Joyce Che restaurant, noting it served “Oriental Mandarin and Shanghai Specialties” and had the “Original Chinese Buffet.” The Buffet was available Tuesday-Wednesday, from 6pm-8pm, and Sunday, from 12:30pm-2:30pm. You could also get a lunch buffet, for only 99 cents, from Monday to Friday, 12pm-1:30pm. 

Joyce was becoming so popular that she began teaching Chinese cooking classes. The Boston Herald, September 9, 1960, noted that the Cambridge Adult Center now offered an “Introduction to Chinese Cooking” by Joyce Chen

An intriguing article appeared in the Boston Globe, March 5, 1961, a discussion on make vs female chefs. Louis Turco, the chef at Hotel Somerset, stated, “Blended food like blended whiskey needs a man to handle it.” He also said, “Man is a creator and divine meals are one of his greatest creations.” He was not alone in his sentiments. Joyce Chen had a much different view, stating, “Most men don’t know how to boil water. All they know how to do is make sandwiches, and they need their wives to tell them where the peanut butter is located.” She also stated, “I’ve heard men talk about the wonderful meals their mothers made. I’ve never heard any bragging about dad’s cooking.” 

In 1962, Joyce would privately publish a cookbook with over 100 recipes, the Joyce Chen Cook Book, selling about 2000 copies. In 1963, J.B. Lippincott Co., would then publish an edition. The Boston Globe, November 2, 1963, published a review, noting, "It is probably the finest book on authentic Chinese cooking ever published in the United States." There were recipes from various Chinese cuisines, including Mandarin, Shanghai, Chungking and Cantonese. It contained more than just recipes, with sections on Chinese ingredients, preparing tea, using chopsticks, growing bean sprouts, and much more.

The Boston Traveler, January 31, 1963, reported that the Boston Opera Group Guild were having special dinners before their latest productions, including one dinner at the Joyce Chen restaurant. Joyce noted that, “The fancier the foods the more honor bestowed on esteemed guests...A Chinese banquet is rarely served in this country because so much time-consuming work is done for each dish.” The article also included a recipe for Shanghai Duck, which was also in Joyce’s cookbook.

A television cooking show. The Boston Globe, September 25, 1966, reported that Joyce Chen was starting a television show, “Joyce Chen Cooks,” on public TV. There were going to be seven programs in this series. Joyce said that there’s no Chinese secret to her cooking, and that “Some of the beautiful, good things are very easy to prepare.” She added, that “there are no written recipes in real old-fashioned Chinese cooking. She learned to cook purely by ear from the family chef when she was a young girl in Peking.” 

Joyce came to Boston from China with her husband, Thomas Chen, in 1949. She was now a mother of 3, the oldest being 21. When two of her children were students at the Buckingham School in Cambridge, she made egg rolls for a school bazaar. Everyone loved them and Joyce was frequently asked for the recipe. She would then hold Chinese cooking classes for various Mothers Clubs, finally opened her restaurant in 1958. The article also had her recipes for Egg Foo Yung and Egg Drop Soup.   


One year after the opening of Joyce Chen restaurant, another Mandarin restaurant opened. Peking on Mystic, located at 66 High Street, Medford, opened in 1959. The owner was T.P. Liu, a master chef who began his apprenticeship in China at age 14, and came to the U.S. in 1957. This might be the same T.P. Liu who worked at Joyce Chen, and had been a victim of the armed robbery in 1958 with Thomas Chen. 

The Boston American, February 3, 1960, noted that the Peking on Mystic had a “Chinese smorgasbord...which has caught on with customers to whom the names on a Chinese menu mean nothing at all.” They also served Peking Duck, for $9.50, and it needed to be ordered ahead of time. 

An extensive review was presented in the Boston Globe, April 18, 1969, which mentioned they had 176 Chinese items on their menu, and a dozen or so American dishes. Their regional cooking included “subtle light dishes from the northeast (usually called Mandarin or Peking style), familiar Cantonese specialties and hot spicy concoctions from China’s southwest (usually called Chungking or Szechwan).” They also served more unusual seafood dishes like braised fish maw and braised sea cucumbers. The restaurant could seat about 120 people and their buffer cost $3.25 per person. Nine menu items needed to be ordered in advance, including Peking Duck; Spiced & Flaky Duck, Honeyed Duck, Sticky Rice & Duck, Flaky Chinese Ravioli and Steamed Silver Roll.  


Housing problems in Chinatown. The Boston Globe, April 11, 1960, reported on the issues of housing segregation and racial discrimination in the North. It initially noted, “there is more housing segregation in Boston and other large cities in the North today than in many Southern cities.” Part of the article concentrated on the specific issues of Chinatown.

Rev. Dr. Peter Y.F. Shih of the Chinese Christian Church of New England stated, “Chinatown is overcrowded and that American born children, when they get married, seek to leave the area but find it hard to obtain housing outside.” He continued, “Most families in Chinatown,…, occupy a room 25 feet by 35 feet, which they subdivide to meet the needs of their members, who average five to seven.” Terrible living conditions which obviously needed improvement. 

Rev. Shih continued, "…young people are no longer interested in going into the restaurant or laundry business and are going into mechanical and engineering fields.” However, he noted, “But there is no danger that Chinese restaurants and laundries will cease to operate. There are 2 million Chinese refugees in Hong Kong just waiting for the word that will permit them to come to this country,…

Another sad situation. The Boston Globe, September 2, 1960, reported on a murder/suicide in Chinatown. At about 9am, Wong Ho, age 85 (of 14 Tyler St), fatally shot Wong Jo Tow, age 82, and then shot himself with a .32 revolver. Wong Ho was found in his 4th floor room with a bullet wound in his head. Wong Jo Tow, of the same address, was found at the foot of the stairs near his 3rd floor room with a bullet wound in the chest. The article stated there was no known motive at the time, although the Boston American, September 2, 1960, stated,: “Police said the two men, once good friends, had become antagonistic toward each other of late.” Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any follow-up articles that might have explained what happened.

The Boston Globe, October 9, 1960, published a recipe for Chinese Duck Sauce, which was allegedly from a large, unnamed Chinese restaurant in Boston. The main ingredients include plums, apricots, other fruits, vinegar, sugar and pimiento.

In the Boston Herald, October 30, 1960, there was a large advertisement for Dave Wong’s China Sails, with locations in Salem, Revere and Chestnut Hill, alleging that it was “serving more people than any other Chinese restaurant in New England.” I haven't seen any evidence to support this assertion. 

More information was provided in the Boston Herald, October 8, 1961, which noted China Sails; uses “finest quality ingredients; mushrooms from France..." Dave Wong stated, "You have to start out with the best if you want to end up with the best,” Dave started working as a helper in a Chinese restaurant when he was 13 years old. About 9 years ago, Dave opened the first China Sails in Salem, eventually opening in Revere (managed by Warren Wong, a cousin), and Chestnut Hill (managed by Jimmy Wong, his brother).
The Boston American, October 19, 1960, published an ad for the Grand Opening of China Pearl, at 9 Tyler Street, and noted to be “Boston’s only dine and dance Chinese Restaurant.” This restaurant occupied the former site of Hon Loy Doo, a Chinese restaurant, which had been in operation since at least 1935. The China Pearl is still in existence (although currently being renovated), and is currently the oldest, still-existing Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. 

The Boston Record American, July 10, 1962, stated that the owner-manager of China Pearl was Winton Bee, a long, active civic leader and prominent in Chinese immigration affairs, however at that same time. there was a legal notice, where China Pearl Restaurant, Inc. sought a liquor license and the manager was listed as Billy Chin. The Boston Globe, February 7, 1965, noted that Billy Chin was the manager and that Winton was a previous manager. It was also mentioned that Billy Chin was born in Boston, but his parents returned to China and he grew up in a small village, Chong Lin. He would return to the U.S. in 1953.

There was a recipe in the Boston American, January 16, 1961, for Hung Yun Bang, Chinese almond cookies.

In August 1950, the Mandarin House opened in Saugus on Route 1, taking over the site over a former ice cream parlor. In 1958, Madeline and William Wong purchased the restaurant, and renamed it the Kowloon Restaurant. The Boston American, August 24, 1961, published a brief ad for the Kowloon Restaurant and Peninsula Cocktail Lounge, noting its "Delicious Chinese food and Polynesian drinks." This is an iconic restaurant, still in existence, and one of the oldest restaurants on Route 1.

Serious issues at the Lotus Inn. The Boston Globe, January 3, 1962, reported on a hearing before the Boston License Commission concerning the Lotus Inn Restaurant, at 85 Beach Street, which may have been established around 1959. It was alleged that the Chinese restaurant had used its premises for immoral purposes. The allegations were that a 16 year-old girl from Salem girl had been brought by two men to the Lotus Inn. The girl was given a pill by one of the men, and then with a third men, they toured various places in Boston where immortal acts were performed. The Lotus Inn proprietor, Louis Yee Fong, claimed no knowledge of the incidents. The matter was taken under advisement and the Boston Herald, January 17, 1962, reported the restaurant's license was suspended for an indefinite time. I didn't find any further information about the Lotus Inn, and it might have closed after this matter.

The Boston Record American, January 31, 1962, mentioned that grand opening of the Four Seas, a new Chinese restaurant at 4 Tyler St. The Boston Record American, February 7, 1962, added that the name had been inspired by a famed saying by Confucius: “Within Four Seas all men are brothers.” Unfortunately, the Boston Traveler, September 15, 1964, reported the restaurant received an indefinite suspension of its food license for the charge of liquor being exposed for sale there.

There was a brief ad for the Green Pagoda, at 1270 Boylston Street, in the Boston Traveler, May 18, 1962.

At this time, there were less than 100 Chinese restaurants in Boston, and in comparison, the Boston Globe, June 22, 1962, alleged there were about 5000 Chinese restaurants in New York. That is certainly a huge difference.

Another new Chinese restaurant. The Boston Daily Record, November 23, 1959, noted the opening of the Ho Ho restaurant at 14 Hudson Street. The Boston American, May 22, 1961, then added that the restaurant was under the management of Sam Set, and was open from 3pm-3am. The Boston Traveler, September 13, 1963, also added that the host was David Wong and the restaurant was decorated with an “exotic display of rare, hand-carved teak and ivory figurines,” They served Cantonese cuisine, prepared by their chef who had recently arrived from Hong Kong. The restaurant offered a $10 evening special for two people, which included dinner, parking, and two tickets to a theater performance. The restaurant would close around 1978. 

A disturbing decision by the Boston School Committee. The Boston Globe, October 20, 1966, reported on a decision by the Boston School Committee to reclassify about 670 Chinese-Americans public school students as "members of the white race." The decision was stated to be "a technical one designed to prevent the number of racially imbalanced schools from rising by two this year." The article continued, "The board ruled that the Quincy and Lincoln elementary schools, with predominantly Chinese student bodies, were not racially imbalanced." The Chinese community in the Boston area was shocked and upset by the board's decision, and rightfully so.

Education Commissioner Owen B. Kiernan also wasn't pleased with the board's decision, and stated "it is not the function of the School Committee to tally up the imbalanced schools." He also indicated that the standards of the U.S. Census Bureau classify the Chinese as non-white. The Boston Globe, November 8, 1966, reported that the State Board of Education had declared there were 57 racially imbalanced schools in four communities. This was one less than the year before, but Boston had increased by two. Kiernan chose to ignore the Boston School Committee's decision to reclassify Chinese students as "white."

A Chinese New Year celebration! The Boston Globe, February 8, 1967, wrote about the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Ram. Billy Chin, owner of the China Pearl restaurant, told the newspaper that large Chinese-American families have associations, which help family members and arrange for family meetings and banquets. Billy belongs to the Chin Family Association, and his association, like others, will have a banquet for the holiday. There will likely be 50-80 family members at their banquet. “Meat and poultry will not be served at these elaborate dinners. Eggs, clams, oysters will be featured, as well as vegetable dishes.”; “According to Billy, the lack of meat and poultry at the dinners can probably be traced back to an old Chinese tradition of ‘no bloodletting’ during a time of celebration.
Starting in 1968, there were numerous newspaper articles about the alleged dangers of MSG at Chinese restaurants. I'll be addressing this issue in a future article.

The Boston Globe, December 17, 1968, had a small ad for the new Aku-Aku,  “Greater Boston’s Newest Polynesian-Chinese Restaurant,” located at 215 Concord Turnpike, Cambridge. It was open every day from 11:30am-2am.

Interestingly, the Boston Globe, January 30, 1969, provided a restaurant review for Yee Hong Guey, located at 34 Oxford Street, and which had been open since at least 1929. The review states, “Chop Suey and Chow Mein dishes predominate in the basically Cantonese menu,” and it was described as “typical of run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurants in town.”

Chinese restaurants for newcomers. The Boston Globe, September 26, 1969, published a Newcomer’s Guide to Boston; and there was a section of restaurant recommendations. In Chinatown, the recommendations included big restaurants like Bob Lee’s Islander, Cathay House, and China Pearl; The smaller restaurants included House of Roy and Yee Hung Guey. Finally, the writers two personal favorites included Peking on the Mystic and Joyce Chen. 

The End For Now

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 4, the tale of Ruby Foo.
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

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.

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