Meet the Fong family
Updated: August 20, 2012 2:12PM
In today’s installment of our occasional series “Have you met?” I’d like to introduce you to the Fong family, owners and proprietors of Royal Cantonese in Mundelein. Each year in August, they celebrate another anniversary of the business, and I recently spoke with Doreen Fong, daughter of Louie and May Fong, founders of the business.
Q: It’s a long way from Asia to Mundelein. Share the story of how/when your family ended up in the area and decided to open a restaurant?
A: Louie and May Fong searched for a location with ample parking in the far northwest suburbs away from competition in 1975. There was only one Chinese restaurant in the area, Henry Yee’s in Libertyville.
Q: Most of the family has participated in different aspects of running the restaurant over the years, making it a multi-generational project. Is that still the case?
A: Yes, Doreen Fong serves and bartends. Edward Fong cooks and bartends. John Lew, Doreen’s husband, cooks and bartends. Every effort is made to have a family member on site to greet our long time customers and to welcome the new ones.
Q: How big of a challenge is it to keep a restaurant open and successful for decades? Have there been any times when it was tempting to close up shop?
A: The years following Sept. 11 have been a struggle for most businesses. Royal Cantonese was not immune to the bad effects on the economy. It has been very tempting to close up shop in hopes that McDonalds or Walgreens would come along with an irresistable offer. It has been a huge challenge. We added a special budget friendly ‘Two can Dine for $19.99’ menu on Tuesday through Thursday. We are tremendously fortunate to have so many loyal customers.
Q: How has the area and business changed from the early days of Royal Cantonese compared to today? Do you plan any major changes?
A: In 1975, there was only one stop sign on Route 45 and Milwaukee between here and the tollway. If money were no object, we would love to expand the bar to fill the demands of our customers. Plans have already been approved the the Lake County Health Department and the Village of Mundelein.
I recently received an email forward that featured pictures and advertisements of dozens of regional retailers that are now defunct. Besides being a walk down Memory Lane, looking at the names on that list amazed me in that all of them seemed, in their heyday, too mighty to fail, making it odds-defying that a family-run restaurant can outlast some of those retail giants. Perhaps the Mom & Pop concept not only isn’t as outdated as some would have us believe, but could be a secret to success. The Fong family is certainly one example.
Send email to Pat Lenhoff at: email@example.com.