Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Jong Mea Restaurant
menu image copyrighted and licensed by WorthPoint
Today after a 3-month hiatus, our department held a potluck lunch. The theme was Chinese, in honor of Chinese New Year. I was among the very few who actually prepared a dish (tofu with meat sauce, or in Cantonese, Ma Po Dow-Fu). The dish itself is amazingly simple to prepare. It only took about 10 minutes to make it. Most of the remaining food was brought in from Marina, a Chinese market in San Mateo.
During lunch, while in discussion about the history of Chinese food in the United States, it led to a conversation about my family's restaurant, Jong Mea. My parents tell me the translation of Jong Mea means "China & America". But I've been told it can also be translated as "Midwest". Regardless, both translations fit to a tee, and knowing my grandfather (the founder), this was intentional. Jong Mea opened in 1951, one of the first Chinese restaurants in Columbus.
We had locations in Mansfield and Columbus, Ohio (my birthplace), and Indianapolis, Indiana. There was another location in Houston, Texas that I knew very little about, probably because it was sold off in the mid 60's. My parents managed the Columbus location in the mid 70's to mid 80's. My aunt and uncle then took over the Columbus location until it closed in the mid 90's. My parents opened a 2nd Columbus location for a short time, then took over the Indianapolis location until it closed in 1998. My great uncle's family managed the Mansfield location until it closed, which I think was in the late 80's.
At the height of business in the 60's and early 70's, the Columbus location had on weekends, 7 waiters, 3 bus boys and 3 assistant managers (answered phones, seated customers, processed take out). We opened from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. Lines used to snake around the corner with a 30 to 60 minute wait.
I worked as a cashier on weekends during my last 2 years in high school in the late 70's. Although I hated the work, it gave me invaluable experience that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise. Because my parents worked long hours, I learned to become self-sufficient at home. By the age of 10, I already knew how to do laundry and cook a simple meal.
When the restaurant was closed, we had wonderful parties at Thanksgiving and Christmas. There were also weeknight dinners with my grandparents and their friends. My dad often prepared the meals for these occasions. I found this to be a bit surprising because he didn't cook much at home until my siblings and I were teenagers.
UPDATE: My September 2007 blog entry has a picture showing the front of the restaurant. It was taken in June, 1982, when my sister Cindy and I graduated from The Ohio State University.