At the turn of the 20th century, Chinese food was quite popular in Chicago. However, the Chinese immigrants who moved inland to Chicago started restaurants on a shoestring, and many were little more than stalls, called “chop suey joints.” Chin Foin went a different route. He went after upscale white diners who went to theaters and the opera. His first restaurant, King Yen Lo, was above a saloon, but it had white tablecloths, an open kitchen to display its cleanliness, and even an orchestra. Chin opened a second restaurant, King Joy Lo, and then a third, the Mandarin Inn near the opera house. The Mandarin Inn had a large menu of Chinese-American dishes, Western dishes, and an extensive wine and liquor list.
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Chin Foin played host every night wearing a tuxedo. His restaurants’ recipes inspired the first Chinese-American cookbook in English. He became famous in Chicago, and quite wealthy, but still ran up against discrimination and laws designed to restrict the Chinese restaurant business. Chin also had to deal with the Chinese tongs of the day. He was not yet 50 when he died in a tragic event that the police ruled an accident, but is rumored to have been a murder. Read the story of Chin Foin at Atlas Obscura.
(Image source: the Chinese American Museum of Chicago)