The following guest article, was submitted by Richard Brody, aka Mee Rich Yee. The family pictures were sent by the Wen family.
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Reminiscing Made So Much Sweeter!
One of the first, if not my first contributing article to The Chinese Quest, was about my fond memories of a neighborhood restaurant in Fresh Meadows, NY, called The House of Won. I remembered the service, the hosts, some of the waiters, but mostly I fondly recalled and remember how great the food was, and how I constantly reminisce about how I have to this day not found any Chinese restaurant I enjoyed as much. This was not a fancy restaurant, but rather a cozy, ordinary – looking place, that just was great to go to, and everyone looked forward to eating there. Their soup, spare – ribs, specialty dishes, and even the standard dishes stood out amongst the crowd!
Then, a little over a month ago, I received an email from Ian Wen, the grandson of the owner of the establishment. He told me how much the restaurant meant to his family, how proud they were of it, and how much they were thrilled to hear that former customers felt so warmly towards the place. We exchanged emails, and then Ian put me in touch with his father, who, via Ian, sent me the following email:
I was flabbergasted and delighted that my son and nephew dug up your articles about our restaurant of half a century ago! Allow me to introduce myself: I am Louis Wen, the second son of Ronald and Judy Wen. We opened the House of Won in 1955 (and changed Wen to Won because it was more auspicious). My father was a high Kuomintang official before being sent to the United States to look after the Party’s affairs in North America. But when the Communists overran China, he lost both his position and source of income. After bumming around for a few years, he opened the House of Won, which changed our family’s fortunes – – both my brother and I graduated from university at the same time, and continued to work at the restaurant on weekends. Maybe we had already met (authors note: We did) . To make a long – story short, my father sold the restaurant after 20+ years. Both my parents have died. I am 82 now, returned to the Orient and still working full-time in Hong Kong.
First of all, all of us including my deceased parents, want to thank you profusely for the accolades you heaped upon the House of Won. Yes we felt there was something special about our little place. But to be recognized as the best Chinese restaurant generations later was an unimaginable honor!!
What delighted me the most was your mention of Raymond and our spare ribs! Ray was our manager and Head Waiter then. He was my idea of a Chinese “Mississippi Gambler” and always delighted our customers, including you I’m sure. We lost touch after I left for the Orient.
Re our ribs, Chinese foods were becoming more and more popular and being mass produced and sold in markets at that time. I didn’t want to be involved with freshness and health issues, but thought, correctly, spare ribs was our most successful dish and it was made easily with dipping fresh ribs and pork into a tub of sauce. The sauce was the key! So with my cousin and a close friend, we made the House of Won Barbeque Spare Ribs Sauce, and sold it into Food Fair, D’agastino’s, and Walbaum. It sold for 39 cents, was so tasty and good that people bought half a dozen at a time. But we failed due to inexperience. Also ours was catsup – based, with fresh garlic and pre-made Chinese sea-foods sauce, which obviously could not be mass produced. Two years later, both Krafts and General Foods came out with their BBQ sauces. I don’t think they got the idea from House of Won but it proved that our idea was on the right track! (Raymond’s younger brother Franklin, our second Head Chef, had a role in the recipe of our sauce).Thank so much again. Those were the days. It would be a pleasure if we can continue reminiscing together.
Sincerely and best regards,
I hope this letter gives you some idea of why this little restaurant was so special! Oh, to only have that place reincarnated!
–Mee Rich Yee nee Richard Brody