My Time as a Waitress in a Chinese Restaurant

Getting the Job Done

I worked in a Chinese restaurant called Asia Garden, when I was seventeen. The place was run by a married couple, Anne and Danny Hom. He was from Cleveland, Ohio, but Anne was from the Cantonese Province of China.

I can tell you I was told they would not hire me because it was a family run place, but I got lucky.

They had three children, all still in school, who would come and help out at night and on weekends, if their homework was done. I still remember the smell of the food when I walked in. I have gone to many chinese restaurants looking for the same gravy as Anne put out for the Egg Foo Young. I used to put that sauce on everything, rice egg rolls, you name it.

Well, I guess first I should tell you why I did.

I had never eaten any Chinese food in my life. It was the late 1970s and all we knew of Chinese food was La Choy, or Chun King. Canned chow mein. Do they even make that any more? After I went to work for them that all changed,

Anne said I could make myself a plate from the buffet when I worked the lunch shift. The food was all foreign to me and I would just wait till I got home to eat.

One day I was opening a package of coffee to make a pot and it spilled all over the buffet. Danny was furious. He called me a stupid girl and shouted at me in Chinese, Anne came out of the kitchen and quietly helped us clean up the mess. Danny scooped out any food with coffee grounds in it and threw it away. Then he put the rest onto a plate for me, and said You will eat this now, I cannot serve it.

There was fried rice, egg foo young, mini egg rolls, chop suey, and moo goo gai pan. He covered it all with Anne's sauce for the egg foo young and made me sit down to eat. I was pregnant, and I wanted to protest. First of all I didn't "like" chinese food (Of course I had never eaten real chinese food). But I did not like gravy or sauce of any kind. Still, I was being punished. So I ate.

Danny was not punishing me. I never tasted anything so good in my life. He knew I had never tasted the food, and as such had no respect for it. He knew my knowledge of chinese food was limited to canned goods. He wanted me to know how good the food was, so that I would never be near the food with anything that could contaminate it. It was the most important lesson of my life, I think.

When you have respect for yourself, or your job, or the work someone has done, you will not do anything to harm it. Danny taught me the meaning of respect. You respect the things you love and adore. For Anne and Danny, they adored their family. Danny's mother had owned a Chinese restaurant in Cleveland. It was Danny's adoration for his family and his mother that made him open this one in Austintown, Ohio. Out of respect for the tradition his mother had started, he wanted to raise his children the way his mother raised him.

That wasn't Real Chinese Food

Some time later, the family had cause for Celebration. Danny's mother came to visit and many family members also. They closed the restaurant and had the wait staff work to serve. All of the tables were pushed together in the center of the dining room. The guests all sat around the table laughing and toasting each other. The table was laid out with an array of food such as I had never seen.

I had to ask what everything was, because, while I had by this time learned the entire menu, I didn't know what any of the food was, except the rice. I asked Danny why they did not put any of these fabulous dishes on the menu.

He said " You Americans don't know anything about Chinese food. You only know Chun King. Chun King is made by an American. If I put this on the menu, no one would come here to eat!"

"This is Traditional Chinese Family Celebration. This is a traditional Chinese Family. This is Traditional Chinese Food. You probably would not like it."

I chuckled at his comment because of the way I had treated the food in the beginning. I had always said, "No thank you, I'm not hungry." I was not rude and did not want to insult them. I didn't know they knew I was too scared to eat the food until I had tried it.

And that delicious Chinese food that I had eaten from the buffet, was not 'Real' Chinese food, according to Danny Hom. That was just the version we Americans would eat.

Their Celebration ran long into the night. The Homs finally sent the staff home and stayed in the restaurant. As I got in the car, I wished I could stay too. I wanted to belong to this family. I wanted to take part in their celebration. I wondered what I was missing, what the segregation of the time was doing to us all.

When I left there to become a wife and mother, I was told I could always come back. Of course my husband wouldn't let me because Danny was always trying to marry me off to some single Asian or Korean man who came in to eat. I would say I am already taken. He would say "That man will not make you happy, but this one will."  I wonder...

I stopped by once when I visited Ohio again. They were still there, though Danny had retired from his work for the Post Office and was now in the restaurant full time. Anne came out still looking the same, as if she had not aged a day. They said they were going to work a couple of more years and then retire to Florida. Their children were not going to take over the restaurant. They were not interested in tradition. "Everything is changing," Danny said. I said "I'll miss the food."  

Anne promised me the recipe for that egg foo young gravy when she retired, but I was not in Ohio when they closed the restaurant.

One day I walked into a Chinese Take-out place in Lantana, Florida. I could not believe it but there was that fragrance from so long ago. The aroma I had been looking for.

I went to the counter and talked to the owner, I was picking up an order. "Are you Cantonese? I asked. She nodded and said "How did you know?" I asked about the smell, and explained I had been looking for that flavor for years. I told her briefly that Anne had promised me that recipe, and that I had it all figured out except one ingredient. "It's Saffron" she said with a smile. We discussed the ingredients that I had figured out on my own, and she said I was right, all that was missing was the saffron. She also offered me a job. Unfortunately, at the time I could not afford to take it.

I wonder if she is still there. Perhaps I will go this weekend and see. I need a job now. And it's almost Chinese New Year!

More by this Author


Comments 42 comments

TnFlash profile image

TnFlash 6 years ago from Tampa, Florida

Excellent Hub! This was obviously written from the heart with real life experiences! I have up rated it.


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thank you. I think this may be the first rating I ever got, though I guess I wouldn't know if nobody tells me. :) Many smiles to you.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

Nice one, written with your own experience, I will rate this up as well, Maita


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thank You, My heart is warm with smiles for you. :)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America

Wonderful story, especially the ending! I wish I could borrow many peoples' thumbs instead of giving just one Thumbs Up. Many successes to you if you want that job.

I, too, wonder what husband Danny would have chosen for you and what life would be like for you all now. Happy Chinese New Year!


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Hi Patty, since you asked... I was not married yet when I first went to work, and Danny insisted that I go on a date with a man from Korea. I said, you hate that guy. He said "I do not care for him, but I do not Hate him. He is a better man than the one you want to marry, he would make you happy." His name was Dan Nguyen. He took me to see Martial Arts films, and explained them to me. He was a good man and I hope he found the right girl. As Danny predicted my marriage did not work out. :) But I have wonderful children from it.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America

Children are a blessing, aren't they? - and I hope you rejoice doubly at Chinese New Year. I saw a lot of match making among Korean friends some time ago and unfortunately, none of the matches worked out at all.

Actually, some of the match making was even funny -- one woman simply did not discuss dating and relationships, so a friend tried to match her with several men and women from all walks of life. The unmatchable woman would never accept a date with any of these new people and the friend became angered, because she could not determine if the woman was straight, gay, uninterested altogether, or what. The woman maintained her privacy while her friend fumed.

So Faybe Bay - Happy New Year and Happy Valentine's Day with your children.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Wonderful story. I love Chinese food and saffron!


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thank you so much for visiting Habee. I love chinese food too and I am still on the look out for someone who cooks as good as Mrs. Hom. I must next write about how I made her stand up to her husband, I think you'll enjoy that story too.


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Patty, it makes me laugh to think how our friends and acquaintances think they know better who we should date. I remember my friends asking me (because I was just too happy in my relationship) Have you had a fight yet? Every single day! 'Wait till you have a fight and then we'll see how happy you are.' And my favorite was 'He looks familiar... was he ever on america's most wanted?' LOL


salt profile image

salt 6 years ago from australia

Wonderful story and thankyou. I worked in a chinese restaurant too, when I was about 17. We had dinner together before work which was lovely. Not as special as your memory.


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

I think the times of our lives become more special in retrospect. When I was older, and divorced I thought, I should have never left that place. I was at home there. Now I am at home, here with you and can make new memories, and share the old sweet ones. Thank you for reading my hub. :D


Misha profile image

Misha 6 years ago from DC Area

Wow! Loving the story, loving how you told it! Instant fan on the spot :)


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thank You Misha. I may have to write a part two. LOL


cosette 6 years ago

:) now i want some Chinese food. i go to this one Thai restaurant near my house. it is tiny and run by a family who shuts the place down in the Summer and goes back to Thailand and visits. they always tell me their adventures when they get back. they had a little baby and made a little play area for him, complete with bean bag chair, tv and video games, behind the big fish tank. the baby is now 6 and he always greets me with a big hug. they have art from Thailand on their walls and it is so not western in any way, and the food is tantalizing. excellent hub my dear :)


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

I am going to write more about the Hom family in a later hub. I have a Thai restaurant I used to frequent. The owner's name was Toi (Pronounced toy) So I took my son to meet her, telling him all about her on the way. He races in and says, "Are you Candy?" and she said, confused "No I am Toi." He says "I knew it had something to do with Christmas." :D


Flightkeeper profile image

Flightkeeper 6 years ago from The East Coast

You told such a wonderful story of your experience and you made it come alive. Thank you.


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thank you, Flightkeeper. I wonder now what type of flight you keep, must go read yours.


febriedethan profile image

febriedethan 6 years ago from Indonesia

Thank you for sharing such wonderful insights story, and the egg foo yong is also my favorite, you're right the gravy is suitable to mix with anything, I also love to eat fried rice with this gravy, great hub!


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

My dilemma is this. Anne's gravy was clear and yellow. I still cannot duplicate it so calling out around the world for the recipe? Saffron, chicken broth, egg drop soup, with the solids strained out, cornstarch, and? I don't know, maybe it's onion powder? Garlic powder? MSG? I must get to the kitchen and work it out one day.


figment profile image

figment 6 years ago from Texas

Sweet story Faybe. I waitress'd myself through college so I know what its like.


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thanks figment it is always good to see you. I wrote a part two for those who wanted more like this. someday I will figure out how to link them.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country

Great story and wonderful storytelling. (voted up, also) I think you are going to do well here. I must ask about the avatar-- looks like a wreck, so it can't be you.


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Currently "Wrecked and hanging on by a tread." But sometimes I look like a wreck. Don't we all?

Thank you Rochelle.


Moon Goddess1854 profile image

Moon Goddess1854 6 years ago from Wherever my writing takes me

Hi,

I know that this is not the right place to post this comment but I don't know how to post a message to your profile. Thanks for giving me a heads up. I'm very new to this stuff so I didn't know that there isn't any comment section on my hub pages.

I also read through some of your work and I enjoyed reading it. :)


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thank you Moon Goddess. It is difficult being new. I will send you an e-mail if you like telling you what little I have learned, but for now, go to the hub, click edit at top. Then to the right you will see capsules you can add such as link(Haven't got that to work yet)and photo, video, text. and of course comment. Whatever you add can be moved either with up down arrows on the capsule or drag and drop, then reorder now on your right bottom of shadowed box.

You can also add tags in that shaded menu bow. Don't forget to click done editing when you finish.


IdeaMorphist profile image

IdeaMorphist 6 years ago from Chicagoland

What a touching story, thank you for sharing!


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

IdeaMorphist, thank you. I am glad you enjoyed it. Memories are best when shared.


FGual profile image

FGual 6 years ago from USA

Thank you for sharing a personal coming-of-age story. That chinese family changed your outlook forever. Segregation is a bad thing. Too bad it had to be politicized.


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thank you for reading. That was 1979/1980, and yes, there was still a lot of segregation. I remember when it was difficult to get a job in a Greek or Italian restaurant if you were not Greek or Italian! Not so long ago, really.


GarnetBird profile image

GarnetBird 6 years ago from Northern California

Wonderful, touching Hub. I was really taken by this. I used to live in Columbus, Ohio., and I love Chinese Food.


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Hi GarnetBird! I was born in Columbus, but we moved when I was two, so I don't really remember it. I love Chinese food too, now! I still miss those days!


richtwf profile image

richtwf 6 years ago

Hi Faybe Bay,

I loved reading that hub and I could relate to all the sentiments that you wrote about. The fact that most food cooked in particularly Chinese fast food take-aways in the west is not a true reflection of the food that Chinese prepare for their own consumption. You'd expect it to be more traditional but it's not and has just been cooked to cater more for the western taste buds. I always get asked that question that you've answered very beautifully here and in the future if I get asked the same question then I'll refer them to your hub!

And with regards to respect - yes sometimes lesson can be difficult to stomach but in your case it was a bitter sweet experience! You got two positives for the price of one negative - the lesson of respect and the chance to discover some delicious new dishes! Learning from mistakes doesn't always have to be so painful!

Thanks for sharing this hub with us and before I go I would like to share a link about respect with you:

http://hubpages.com/literature/Paying-Respect

P.S. If you really want to spoil yourself for real Cantonese food then you should go to Hong Kong for a great digestive holiday and if you go in during Chinese New year - it can be a festive one too!


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida Author

Hi Richtwf,

It is so good to read your comment. I have had a bit of time away from my writing, I have been working on a screenplay and helping a friend with editing her book. I loved my time in the restaurant, although it was such a short time. I would not be the worker I am today if I had not worked for the Homs. I still miss them and love them, I can see their faces and hear their voices as if it was just yesterday an not over thirty years ago now. I am off to read your hub about Paying Respect and I thank you for it. I would love to go to China one day, especially for Chinese New year! It would be wonderful if that is to be my fate!


PR_am profile image

PR_am 6 years ago from Oregon

Beautiful story. I enjoyed it. All the best to you Faybe Bay!


Charlotte B Plum profile image

Charlotte B Plum 5 years ago

I totally enjoyed this story! And I can relate to your experience too, about the chinese food - perceived by the chinese and the americans. Thanks for sharing it with us!


WillSteinmetz profile image

WillSteinmetz 5 years ago

Awesome story! Thanks for sharing your experience.


Rusticliving profile image

Rusticliving 4 years ago from California

Fabulous, Fabulous story Faybe! The term "small world" really comes into play withour lives. What an awesome experiences you encountered with the Hom's. Thank you so much for sharing a piece of your life with us!

Voted up and across, and Shared! :)


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 4 years ago from Florida Author

It appears I have not been keeping up with my comments, my apologies. Usually I am notified, but I had surgery, so have been missing my e-mails. Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting. I'm sorry I've been away so long. This hub brings back fond memories for me, and I am so glad you have enjoyed it as well.


Tiffany 3 years ago

SUCH a beautiful story. I thought it was actually fiction, because it's so sweet. I even anticipated a fairy-tale type of ending, with the protagonist taking over the restaurant hehe.


Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 3 years ago from Florida Author

You know that if I had stayed I might have! Going back to visit, the Homs were ready to retire and their children did not want to carry on the family business. I think Annie was relieved but Danny seemed sad. They probably would have let me take over, had I stayed there. That would have opened completely different path for my life.


jentu96 2 years ago

Great post! A local Chinese restaurant here in South Bend, IN closed a couple years ago. They made what sounds like the same sauce for egg foo young, which my boyfriend loves! He still talks about it. We have not found it anywhere else yet. I have not found a recipe searching online either. Now that I know saffron is likely a key ingredient (thanks to your post), maybe I will have better search results. If you can share the recipe, I would definitely give it a try! Thanks.

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