I came here when I was 20 years old. I was born in China, educated and raised in Taiwan. And then father sent me to Hong Kong for a few years, then I come to the United States. My father said to me many, many times, “America is a bountiful country, rich in land, product and opportunity. It’s the country where a person can have a dream. If you work very hard, with a little bit of luck, your dream can come true.”
I came to America and went to adult school. I couldn’t go to high school because I was 20 years old already. I cannot go to college because my English is not good. I worked at night in Trader Vic’s, a first-class restaurant. So, I would go to school in the mornings and worked at nights.
One day, I met my future wife. I said, “My goodness, she’s beautiful. She’s intelligent.” After I met her parents I said, “I want to raise my family after my wife’s family’s model.” It’s very important. I am from a broken family. My mother passed away when I was 5 years old. And then we went to Taiwan and then my father remarried. So, I want my next generation to be strong. America is a new country for me.
Coming to America, I told myself, America is not your home. You came to someone else’s home, you love somebody else’s home, you have to remember a few things. You come to a new country; you have to follow the law. Follow the etiquette and have strong family values. In Taiwan on Sunday nights, the family dinner is very important- food brings everybody together.
When I met my wife I was 25 years old. She is my inspiration. She is the one motivating me to do something. What I said to her, I have a burning desire to open a fast-food Chinese restaurant everywhere in America. My wife said, “No. If you only open one restaurant and find the right location, then I will help you.” She only told me to find the location.
So, I opened a restaurant, pretty much a fast-food joint; quick, healthy, simple, delicious. I found what turned out to be a good location and started the restaurant in an abandoned laundromat. I drew the floor plans. I was motivated by my wife. She thought I had a PhD degree. Later on, she found no, my PhD degree is I was a poor, hungry, and determined. I had a burning desire to succeed for her. When things were not so good in the beginning, my wife Ruth said, “You’re not going to fail. I quit school to help you. You’re not just going to walk out of here. Do something.”
Entrepreneurship means never give up. I thought of the family dinners growing up in Taiwan and decided to make it a family style restaurant, more like a culture center, to bring Americans and Chinese cultures closer together, through food and hospitality. I got some good publicity in the newspapers and never looked back. I eventually expanded into the rest of the building and took over a dry cleaner, a vacuum repair shop, an insurance office. We can serve 500 meals a night.
It is important to bond with my customers. I come out to tell you, “Nelson, you like this? I tell you how we put it together.” “Wow, chef come down tell me all this.” Little by little, you bond together. I talk with the customers and I tell them about the food. I offered cooking classes two years after I opened. People come here to enjoy my good food and say, “Chef Chu, how you did it?” I say, “I teach you how to do it.” I always treat customers with a smile and try to get to know them.
I also try to be of service to the community. When I started my restaurant, I joined the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club and I have served on foundation boards for the local community colleges, hospital and YMCA. The Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary all have fundraisers every year and I participate. I used to cook hot lunches for high school kids- 300 of them weekly. I lose money but the children all enjoy the Chinese food and it is a pleasure that money cannot buy. But one day the health department comes and tells me you cannot do that anymore and it was impossible so I had to stop. America has given me a lot and it is important to give back.
The restaurant is over 51 years old. Why would I retire? I love to talk. I love to serve people and I definitely like to cook a little bit!