In New York, there are many popular restaurants with flashing lights, fancy decor with highly priced food, but the Chinese restaurant Wo Hop does not follow these standards. The entrance is down a flight of stairs to the basement of a building, and upon entering, a customer is greeted by the scent of fresh made westernized- Chinese food. The walls are covered with pictures of family members, friends, customers and celebrities.
Wo Hop continues to be a successful restaurant where tourists congregate. Started by immigrants, the Huang Family continues to own the establishment.
According to CHD expert, Away from Home Consumption, “As of October 2017, there are more than 480,900 total independent restaurants in the United States.” Experts define independent restaurants as having less than ten places which encompasses family owned restaurants.
New York has many family owned restaurants which are adored by locals, but New Yorkes have no explanation how the restaurant is passed down throughout generations. Wo Hop is a family owned restaurant which is seeing its third generation of ownership. With the current manager being the 48 year old Ming Haung, who is the nephew of the founder of Wo Hop. Ming Huang explains how he became the manager of his family’s restaurant as he gives insight into the lives of his ancestors decisions to start their own business.
How Wo Hop Started
In 1938, a group of immigrants from South Pac China opened Wo Hop for business. Thomas Chai, who has worked for over 35 years at Wo Hop, explained that the restaurant has variety of people working from China who speak both Madarin and Cantonese.
Ming explained that the location of the restaurant was because of the low rent. At the time the rent cost less than 110 dollars every month.“They wanted to create a restaurant, but the New York is not a cheap place, so they chose here because of the low rent,” he added. By the 70s, the rent had risen to nearly double that number. Despite the difficulty of finding a place, the founders wanted to continue Wo Hop.
During the 80 years that the restaurant was open, it has slowly added more diverse menu options that accommodate, the growing, more diverse Chinese population in the area. During the 70s Wo Hop added favorites such as Chow Fun and Congee, then in 1976, Ming’s uncle opened 15 Wo Hop just next door with an expanded menu of Cantonese food which catered to more people who came from the same area they did.
Throughout these years, this small Chinese restaurant flourished. Started from Chinese immigrants, Wo Hop continues to be a popular place for many tourists and dedicated customers.
Ming has been working at 17 Wo Hop for under 20 years, but he started at 15 Wo Hop. In 1998, his uncle taught him how to manage and work at 15 Wo Hop. Ming helped seat people, answered the phone orders while managing the restaurant alongside with the help of his uncle. In 2003, he started managing 17 Wo Hop where he still works.
A common way for new employees to learn how to work at Wo Hop is by other waiters or chefs teaching them since many have been there for over 40 years. With everyone helping each other, every employee is equal.
Staying in Business
Though the management has changed during the restaurant’s history, a new manager has never stopped Wo Hop’s loyal customers from coming to the restaurants and eating. Unlike most restaurants, new manager changes the atmosphere of the place, the teaching at Wo Hop is done through family not a degree.
“I used to come yo Chinatown all the time, and this is my favorite spot,” said Lui, 70, who was born and raised in New York. Lui added, “Back in the day when we didn’t have much money, it was reasonable and we just kept coming and coming.” After over 40 years, he still enjoys the people and food at Wo Hop.
Ming does not know who his heir will be, but with the guidance of family, there is optimism for Wo Hop. As long as that happens, this family restaurant will continue to be successful for years to come.