Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant to close in Vancouver Chinatown: It's the end of an era for Cantonese restaurants

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho 034

Friends, Todd Wong and Jim Wong Chu, standing outside Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant after eating there for the last time. – photo T.Wong

Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant to close in Vancouver Chinatown: It's the end of an era for Cantonese restaurants

(please note that due to popular demand – Foo's Ho Ho did re-open.  Open Wednesday to Sunday, Closed Monday and Tuesday – 102 East Pender Street Vancouver, BC V6A 1T3 – (604) 609-2889 – editor Todd Wong January 2010)

On Friday, I received notice that Foo's Ho Ho restaurant was going to close on Saturday July 11th.

On July 9th Friday, several friends sent out emails to me about Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant, including Wesley Lowe, Larry Wong, Bob Sung and Jim Wong Chu.  Larry wrote:

“Sam, the cook and proprietor of Foo’s Ho Ho has liver cancer and is
currently in VGH pallative care. At most he has 2 months left to live. 
His partner, Joanne has been keeping the landmark restaurant open and
continuing cooking the delicious dishes you’ve enjoyed and remembered
throughout the years.

Going back and forth between the hospital and the restaurant has
taken a toil on her and she has reluctantly decided to close Foo’s Ho
Ho indefinitely after this coming Saturday. The famous neon sign will
dim one last time. So it’s last call for those who wish to have one
more lunch or dinner for old times sake and it’s also a way to support
Joanne and Sam financially.  An opportunity to re-live a part of
old-time Chinatown, round up some friends and book your table.

The first Chinese pioneers to Canada were Cantonese speakers, and they brought Cantonese styled Chinese food with them.  As the pioneers spread across North America, so did Chinese restaurants.

During the 1960's and 1970's, my father would often stop at the Ho Ho Restaurant in Vancouver Chinatown and bring back chow mein or deep-fried won ton, as a late night snack.

I can remember many friday nights, when we would meet our family friends at the Ho Ho restaurant, then either go swimming at Father & Son nights at the YMCA, or shopping at Army & Navy and Woodwards along Hastings St.

During the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's, Chinatown's neon was the place to be, and the place to eat! – photo courtesy of Christian Dahlberg

Larry also is a local Chinatown historian and he wrote: “Foo’s Ho Ho is the last of the “village-style” Cantonese restaurants
from the late 1940s. establishments in Vancouver’s Chinatown that does
the original home-style cooking. Many of the older generation remembers
it well. Sam who first gain his cooking chops at the WK Restaurant and
later at the Famous Marco Polo and others before he resurrected the Ho
Ho which had been left vacant for a number of years and renamed it
Foo’s Ho Ho.”

In recent years, I have attended many dinners at Foo's Ho Ho with the Chinese Canadian Miltary Museum, Pacific Unit 280, and also with Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC, as well as with our Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team after Tuesday night practices.

My friend David Wong wrote on his blog:

At one time, the Ho Ho graced one of the city’s most familiar neon
landmarks – a stylized bowl of rice with steam rising up 3 1/2 stories.
 Within this neon rise, alternated the Chinese characters for “Ho
Ho”…and her English words – both in flashing neon glory.

The restaurant once hosted many of Chinatown establishment’s major
events – weddings, Clan society dinners, cultural and festival dinners,
etc. The enterprise occupied the lower two floors of an old 8 storey
brick building that contained a once thriving rooming house / hotel,
the “Sun Ah”.

At one time, another old favourite restaurant existed a block away. Foo’s restaurant. When old Foo’s restaurant closed shop, the Ho
Ho became “Foo’s Ho Ho”

From serving tourists to locals, there are regular groups of
customers who return to enjoy the authentic ciusine that faithfully
maintained Chinatown’s history. Each year, the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia hosts its Annual General Meeting dinner at Foo’s Ho Ho in honour of the tradition and history that it represents.

What did we eat for our “Last Night at Foo's Ho Ho”?

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho 016Sticky Rice w/chicken – one of my Favorites!  photo T.Wong

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho 017Ox Tail with Black Bean sauce  photo T.Wong

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho 018Curried potato with beef slices – Another Favorite!  photo T.Wong

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho Egg Foo Yung – Sam's signature dish.  photo T.Wong

Who was eating at Foo's Ho Ho on the last night?

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho 003 photo T.Wong

Peter Wong, Kwoi Gee, Annie, and Opal.  Peter is the brother of Steven Wong, one of our paddlers on the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team.  Steven tells us that their family often goes to Foo's Ho Ho restaurant.  Their father Bill Wong runs Modernize Tailors, another landmark institution in Vancouver Chinatown.

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho 005 photo T.Wong

Our table with (standing) Jim Wong Chu, Marlene, Bev and Ken (visiting from the next table), sitting: Todd, Deb, Dan, Sandy, Al and Stuart Mackinnon. Deb, Dan, Stuart and myself have shared many dinners at Foo's Ho Ho, following dragon boat practices.  Jim and Bev are Chinatown institutions themselves, having grown up in the area, then working hard as board members to develop Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society into a major Vancouver festival.

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho 015photo T.Wong

My mom's cousin Gary Lee, a friend, Tina, Gary's wife Josie, Bev and Ken.  Gary filmed his interview for the CBC documentary Generations: The Chan Legacy, upstairs at the Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant.  Gary's a real Chinatown veteran.  His father Gordie Lee helpd develop Lee's Taxi – Vancouver's first Chinese-Canadian owned taxi service.  Gary also used to sing in local night clubs – he was called “the Chinese Sinatra.”

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho 014 photo T.Wong

Ron, George, Sid, Fanna, Elwin and Mary, were all active compatriots during the Chinese Head Tax Redress campaign of 05-06.  We are all pioneer Chinese head tax descendents.  Sid has carried the torch for many years, and promises to keep carrying it until all the head tax certificates are recognized – not just the less than 1% of surviving head tax payers and spouses.

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho 013 photo T.Wong

Bob Lee and Family had the largest gathering at Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant.  Bob was the first Chinese-Canadian chancellor of UBC, and his daughter Carole recently organized the Chinatown and Beyond conference.

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho 028 photo T.Wong
At the end of the meal, Todd and Jim went to say thank you to the chef, Joanne.  By the end of the evening, there was a rumour going around that Joanne was so touched by the turnout for “Last Night at Foo's Ho Ho” that she might keep the restaurant going… or re-open in a month…

In any case, we wish the best for Sam and Joanne.  They've earned a place in Vancouver's culinary and cultural history.

2009_July_Foos_Ho_Ho 027 photo T.Wong
Behind the cashier desk at Foo's Ho Ho, is this picture taken last November following the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Canadian Chinese Pioneer Monument in Keefer Square.  The Hon. Lt. Gov. Steven Point spontaneously decided to attend the ceremonies and gave a very heartfelt speech.  The veterans of Pacific Unit 280 always go to Foo's Ho Ho for lunch afterwards.  After the lunch, Lt. Gov. Steven Point asked to meet the cook, and honoured Joanne with a “Thank You Song” which he and his wife Gwen sang in their First Nations Sto:lo language.  Itw as a wonderful and proud moment for all who attended.

4 thoughts on “Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant to close in Vancouver Chinatown: It's the end of an era for Cantonese restaurants

  1. Anonymous

    I am sure a lot of people suffer for the loss and for the restaurant closing. I never got the chance to pass by, I would have loved it. It's too bad that nobody else wants to keep the “home like cooking” tradition alive… That part of town won't be the same without Foo's Ho Ho restaurant.
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  2. Anonymous

    Restaurants then spread rapidly across the world, with the first in the United States (Jullien's Restarator) opened in Boston in 1794. The oldest restaurant in continuous operation in the United States, Union Oyster House is also in Boston and has been open since 1826.
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