Kenny Huang Joanne XieFujian province China Ping Garden
WORCESTER – When restaurant owner Kenny Huang came to the United States over two decades ago from China, he could not speak English and worked in a Chinese restaurant in town six days a week while learning English. English in a religious school.
Huang said the religious school served immigrants like him who understood very little English and had to learn the alphabet – although his native language is considered one of the most difficult to learn using thousands of characters.
“During the time, I went to church school from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and went to a restaurant right after that until 11 p.m.,” Huang said. “It was exhausting, but we think it’s totally worth it. No harvest without sowing, is there? ”
Huang, now 46, immigrated to Worcester from China’s Fujian Province in 1995 to pursue a better life. He and his wife Joanne Xie now own three restaurants in Worcester.
But, before starting his own business, he worked at Ping’s Garden for six years and at a Japanese restaurant called “Sakura Tokyo” (now also closed) for 11 years.
While working in restaurants, Huang said he appreciated the opportunities available to him, including working at the front desk to greet customers in English, which helped him learn to speak English more. quickly.
He also had transportation issues and had to get used to the food here, he said. It was a time when not everyone had a cell phone, making traveling to a foreign country to live even more difficult.
But with an adventurous heart preparing for any challenge, Huang said, “It was good because I was young and I had the courage to challenge myself.”
He now has 25 years of experience in making Chinese food and sushi.
Wan Wang Restaurant, which opened in October 2019, is the third location of its catering business. He and his wife also operate the Kenichi Asian Bistro on Shrewsbury Street, which opened in 2011; and Sake Bomb, which opened on Park Avenue in 2015.
“(Allowing) Chinese international students to eat food from their home country is what we initially wanted to do,” said Huang, who found that more and more people like Sichuan foods, but he there are not many restaurants offering this cuisine in the area.
With a plate of Sichuan poached fish fillets and classic spicy chicken wings, the flavors not only satisfy overseas Chinese when they lack the flavors of their homeland, but Chinese-American foods also appeal to foodies. in favor of different Chinese flavors.
Wife Xie is the backbone of the couple’s business, he said. She moved to Worcester on January 8, 2001 after Huang on her 21st birthday.
Xie, now 40, immigrated to the United States on a green card – with the help of her father who was already a U.S. citizen – along with her mother, three sisters and brother.
Huang and Xie met right after Xie arrived in Worcester in 2001. Their fathers worked together at a long-standing Chinese restaurant in Worcester, Ping’s Garden, where Huang worked, which closed in 2010 when the owner took over. retirement. They married in 2002 and had their first child in 2003. They now have three children aged 9, 15 and 18 and live in Shrewsbury.
Huang said he could not have operated the restaurants without the support and help of his wife who takes care of their children and also learned to make sushi.
“Back then, it was like one person did the workload of three to four people,” Huang said.
They have been US citizens for over 15 years and all of their family members are in the United States
Immigrated from Fujian to Worcester for a better life
A trend of immigration to the United States followed economic reform in the late 1970s in China when the constraints for individuals to move relaxed in the Fujian region, a province on the southeast coast of China. Huang was among the first generation of his family to immigrate to the United States in the late 1990s, he said. Fujian remains one of the main emigration provinces in China.
“Going to the United States was a better choice back then,” said Huang, a migrant worker in China who applied to become a chef there.
Xie not only wanted a better life by coming to the United States, she wanted to reunite her mother and siblings with her father. She had also worked for several restaurants before starting a business with Huang.
Years later, the couple consider the United States their home, and only return to Fujian to visit relatives while on vacation.
“I wanted to come to the United States at that time because the United States had a lot of opportunities,” he said, recalling how different the United States and China were 20 years ago. “We feel good and it is worth it (to immigrate here) because we have chosen the road we are going to continue on. It is impossible to go back to China now to develop.”
Culture shock and immigration difficulties
It’s hard to get used to life here in the United States, Xie said. The language barrier was one of the toughest hurdles the couple spent years overcoming.
“I understand most of reading, but when it comes to talking with people, I couldn’t do it,” Xie said. “I learned English when I was in China, but I needed more time to know how to interact with people in English.”
After arriving in the United States, Xie enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) program at a community college before starting work in the restaurant business.
The difficulty of being a restaurateur
During the first years of starting their business, it was difficult for them, said Huang.
The couple operated the first of their three businesses on their own, Kenichi on Shrewsbury Street, without any additional employees. It wasn’t until their second year in business that they started hiring staff, but most of their income was spent on employee salaries.
Four years later they opened Sake Bomb Bistro on Park Avenue and in 2019 they opened their third location, Wan Wang, in the former Ho Toy Restaurant located in the building they renovated. They also started renting the upper floors of this building to students.
However, when the pandemic struck last March, Wan Wang was hit hard. When the restaurants were forced to close, they hardly had any businesses left because the location had just opened in late 2019. They did not have repeat customers, Huang said.
“If the situation had continued, maybe we would have ended up shutting down the place, and that would be a real shame,” Huang said.
The alfresco dining allowance and paycheck protection program loans have helped them survive financially, he said.
“When the government said alfresco dining was allowed, we saw our luck because we have a large parking lot, so we placed 16 tables and resumed our activities,” Huang said. “We were tired, we were all sweaty, but it’s totally worth it.”
They now have just over 10 employees, but Huang and Xie still work seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., waking up every day at 6 a.m. to cook for their children before going to school and then. go to the market to buy supplies and ingredients for restaurants.
“It’s exhausting every day, but it’s worth it and we’re used to it. At least the business isn’t operating at a loss,” he said.
Next step and future prospects
The couple are also investing in real estate in the region.
Achieving success has not been easy, said Huang.
“There is still a lot of room for improvement. I hope that when the pandemic is over, business will improve as well,” Huang said.
The couple said they don’t know if their children will want to work in the family business, but that they will allow them to choose their own path, as they know it is difficult to keep a restaurant up and running.
“It’s easy to start a business, but it’s difficult to run a business,” Huang said.
Following:A new cabin offering varied ethnic cuisine opens its doors on Park Ave. after years of vacancy