The Year of the Rat: a milestone for the Fong family

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When the Chinese dragon dancers wind their way through David Fong’s restaurant on February 7, they will not only celebrate the Chinese Year of the Rat, but also four generations of their family in the restaurant business.

It began for David Fong at age 14 when he came to Minneapolis From Canton, China, to work in his father’s restaurant, Moy’s Café at Broadway and Bryant Northeast.

It continued in 1958 after David had completed training in drafting and serving in the military. He opened David Fong’s take-out restaurant at 98th and Lyndale in Bloomington. Along the way David and his wife Helen had six children and many of them are continuing the family’s involvement with food. Daughter Sidney and her husband Leo Le opened Fong’s Restaurant and Bar in Prior Lake. Son David, Jr., and daughter Amy opened D Fong’s Chinese Cuisine in Savage. And while all the restaurants are independent, the whole family plays a role in their success. David Sr. is no longer active in day-to-day operations, but he is still very involved in all the family businesses.

Today, son Edward is president of David Fong’s restaurant now located at 94th and Lyndale in Bloomington, and Ed’s two sons have already taken part in the business.

“When Dad was looking for a place to start the original business, he wanted something that would use his restaurant experience and drafting training,” recalled Ed Fong in a recent interview. “Someone told him about a location in Richfield and when he tried to find it he missed the exit ramp and wound up in Bloomington.”

It proved to be Richfield’s loss and Bloomington’s gain. There David found an empty store and opened one of the first Chinese restaurants in Bloomington. While it was initially take-out only, its menu was unique, for alongside chow mein and fried rice there was a wide assortment of “meat and potato” entrees so popular with Midwest diners.

“From the beginning Dad felt it was important to offer familiar local food along with well-made traditional Chinese dishes,” recalled Ed.

The Fongs were one of the first Chinese families in Bloomington and David felt it was important to build relationships with his Bloomington neighbors. His efforts were successful and for years the Bloomington Lion’s Club and a local business organization have chosen David Fong’s restaurant for their regular meetings.

David expanded the take-out operation to a full service restaurant in 1966 and moved it to the current location. He even used his drafting skills in designing a portion of the current restaurant. David Fong’s was also one of the first restaurants in Bloomington to be granted a liquor license, thanks in part to David’s outstanding reputation in the community.

In 2005 David Fong was among the first eight people elected to the Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame. David Fong’s restaurant was named one of the Top 100 Chinese Restaurants in USA 2005-2006 by the Chinese Restaurant News. (There are an estimated 41,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S.) But perhaps the greatest tribute to Fong’s success is the upcoming 50th anniversary of the restaurant in October. It is indeed a rare feat in an industry that has undergone so many changes in the past five decades.

“Our business has adjusted to the changes over the years,” commented Ed. “For example, our bar business was affected by the Bloomington ban on smoking a few years ago, but we were able to increase the food side.” They also expanded their menu to include a variety of Chinese cuisines in addition to their original Cantonese base.

The restaurant continues to be a favorite stop for people coming home from work, and on Monday nights features Texas Holdum.

Its menu is still a balance between Chinese and American dishes.

“We prepare classic Chinese dishes using local food,” said Ed, “just as they do in all parts of China.” In fact, some of their recipes came from Ed’s great grandfather.

While the restaurant offers a wide choice of classic Chinese dishes – Sizzling Wor Bar, Crab Ragoon, Kung Bo Chicken, Moo Goo Gai Pan, and Shrimp in Lobster Sauce to name a few – it also features a variety of Chinese/American dishes, American dishes, and American dishes with Chinese influences. For example, Egg Foo Young is served with the gravy sauce Americans seem to expect while in China it is served without the sauce. French fries and onion rings are served in the American style, but steak may take on Chinese flavors when it is topped with pea pods and oyster sauce.

“We encourage people to try something new each time they come in,” Ed added. With family style serving, diners who may be hesitant about new flavors can order familiar barbequed ribs or New York steak and taste some of the Chinese dishes ordered by their friends.

“We often see those diners coming back for Chinese dishes after a few visits,” Ed added.

Patrons tend to be regulars who have come to rely on the quality and consistency of David Fong’s food. And, the staff is loyal as well. Half of the wait staff has worked at the restaurant for 20 years and two have been there for 30 years.

David Fong’s is one of several restaurants in the area offering Chinese New Year menus each year. But, it is the only restaurant featuring Chinese dragon dancers and musicians composed of several generations of the Fong family. They perform at 7:00 p.m. on February 7, 8, and 9, while diners enjoy dishes from the regular menu or choose from a special New Year menu.

For more information and reservations call 952-888-9294. David Fong’s, 9329 Lyndale Avenue South in Bloomington, is open Monday through Saturday for lunch, dinner, and cocktails with plenty of free parking at the door.

While the Year of the Rat celebrations will begin February 7, for the Fong family the most important celebration this year will be the 50th anniversary of David Fong’s restaurant in October around Moon Festival time. Plan to take part. It should be great fun!

Phyllis Louise Harris is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher specializing in Asian foods. She is founder of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes Ltd. dedicated to the preservation, understanding and enjoyment of the culinary arts of the Asia Pacific Rim. For information about ACAI’s programs call 612-813-1757 or visit the website at www.asianculinaryarts.com.

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