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.

31 comments:

Mred said...

What a true pleasure to find this site and post. I was raised on Jong Mea food in Columbus. We were actually from Delaware, but my father was a doctor and was in Columbus 2-3 times a week. Your gracious family welcomed all eight of us through the years when other restaurants grimaced when such a large family arrived.

I remember when Jong Mea was a long room with booths on each wall, before it was enlarged with beautiful decorations added. I believe there were two gentlemen, Mr. Lee and Mr. Chin that would patiently show me the ivory elephants for sale at the register showcase. I still have 2 of them, while the others have been given to my children.

It may have been your father who took pity on me in the mid-to late 70's when I appeared Christmas eve alone, to eat. When I finished my meal and was about to leave, he gave me a box of tea and cookies as a present.

What wonderful memories. I miss your family and the Jong Mea.

Ed Jenkins,
Ohio

Anonymous said...

Hi, I can't believe I found this blog. I was just thinking about Jong Mea's Wor Dip Har-"Butterflied shrimp, wedded to bacon, smothered in a pungent sweet and sour sauce with onions" I've made it many times over the years-I can't remember when I first had it at your family's restaurant , but obviously it made an impression. Thanks for the memories
Pat Levins, Columbus Ohio

mike said...

THIS WAS NICE TO WSE A HISTORY OF ONE OF MY FAVORITE CHINESE RESTAURANTS IN COLUMBUS OH.
WHEN I WORKED FOR KROGER AT 12TH AVE WE WOULD STOCK SHELVES ALL NIGHT AND TAKE A BREAK AT 2 AM. I WAS HUNGRY SO I WOULD CALL UP AND ORDER SHRIMP SUBGUM CHOW MEIN WITH ALMONDS AND WOW WAS IT GOOD!!
AFTER I MARRIED MY WIFE AND I WOULD GO AND ENJOY THEIR WONDERFUL FOOD.
HAVE INQUIRED MANY TIMES SINCE THEY CLOSED AT OTHER LOCAL CHINESE EATERIES BUT NO ONE HAS HEARD OF THE ABOVE DISH. I MISS BOTH THE FOOD AND RESTAURANT

MIKE LEYSHON
COLUMBUS

mike said...

JUST SOME ADDITIONAL COMMENTS
REMEMBERING THE YELLOW PAGE ADS FOR JONG MEA--
A NICE PICTURE OF MRS. IRVING CHIN "YOUR HOSTESS" AND THE ADS SAYING "FAMOUS FOR CHINATOWN FOOD"
THANKS!

fayeray said...

Hello from Columbus from your cousin Faye.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the Mansfield area and my family went to Jong Mea's on the square in Mansfield. Jong Mea was one of their favorite restaurants. I was young but remember that the food was good, the service outstanding, and the hosts were always smiling and gracious.

john11711 said...

Lani: My wife and I enjoyed the Jong Mea on Meridian Street in Indianapolis from the early '70's until it closed. My favorite was wor sue gai. Not a week goes by that one of us does not make a comment about how we wish we could eat just one more meal at Jong Mea. I would love to know how to make the batter used on the chicken breast in wor sue gai and the sweet/sour eggroll sauge. I think the key ingredient was orange jello.
What great memories we have of Jong Mea and your kind family.

doug ritterling said...

Lani-
I believe that you were working the register the night I proposed to my wife in 1978. Jong Mea was our favorite restaurant and a perfect place for me to propose. I was a disk jockey for 1230 WCOL, (the studios were a few blocks down Broad Street)so we stopped at Jong Mea often after I got off the air. Pamela and I are still happily married after nearly 29 years! We still point out the old building to our three kids whenever we visit the city. Perhaps its time for a new Jong Mea?
Thanks for the good times!
Doug Ritter (Ritterling) St, Louis, MO

doug ritterling said...

Lani-
I believe that you were working the register the night I proposed to my wife in 1978. Jong Mea was our favorite restaurant and a perfect place for me to propose. I was a disk jockey for 1230 WCOL, (the studios were a few blocks down Broad Street)so we stopped at Jong Mea often after I got off the air. Pamela and I are still happily married after nearly 29 years! We still point out the old building to our three kids whenever we visit the city. Perhaps its time for a new Jong Mea?
Thanks for the good times!
Doug Ritter (Ritterling) St, Louis, MO

Lisa B. said...

I used to work in the kitchen as a dish washer in high school in the early 80's, in the Mansfield, Ohio restaurant. I loved listening to the cooks, one of them named Yee, I couldn't understand a word they said, but they were very nice men. haha! And the Wor su gai was so good, I still try to find it to this day, but never have been able to. I wish the restaurant was still there, it is missed.

Rick said...

Lani--

I ate at the Mansfield restaurant many times from 1970 until they closed. I would make a point of driving to Mansfield from Sterling when I was home on leave from the Army to have the beef with snow peas and the best egg rolls in the world. Any chance of getting the egg roll recipe?

--Rick Tanney

partsman427 said...

Jong Mea "on the square" Mansfield
I remember in 1954, at the tender age of 9 being the family volunteer go-pher,
Walking to the Jong Mea from 22 North Diamond st. to pick up the 3 orders of mushroom chow mein. Being sent on this most important mission "by my self" made this 9 year old feel like an adult.
don't forget the soy sauce and give the change to the nice "chinese" girl. Memories like this are priceless. A much simpler time.
Hank Engel

v said...

I'm so glad to find this site. I have eaten many many meals at the Columbus< Ohio Location. I was so sad to see it close.I've never found any other restaraunt that had wor su gai like Jong Mea. Would I love the recipe for that! It had the most wonderful chicken gravy! The egg rolls were to die for! We used to go there on Friday and Saturday nights after the bars closed. You should wright a recipe book and sell them.
Vickie from Columbus

Kevin Clark said...

Lani,
I am doing reseach on the archetect who in 1935 designed the building where Jong Mea Restaurant was on East Broad St. in Columbus, Ohio. I am looking for any old photos you might have of the outside of the restaurant. It so please email me a copy to turtlefarmers@hotmail.com Thank you so much! Kevin in Columbus

Linda Chavis said...

I can NOT believe I found this blog. I used to go into Jong Mea EVERYDAY for a year and have pepper steak and won ton soup. The server saw me coming and I didnt have to order. I LOVED the food heere and was so very sad when it closed. I am now 60 and trying to learn to cook various dishes. I found this blog looking for a yellow sauce recipe for my shrimp egg foo yung. Thanks !

Anonymous said...

Now this has been a real trip down Memory Lane. Reared in Wooster OH and a student at OSU, I visited both the Columbus and Mansfield locations many times. My favorite dish? Wor Sue Gai, of course. Do I ever miss that. Have tried to explain to my local Chinese restauranteur, Miyo's, in the Columbia SC area what I want and, although they try to accomodate me, they are way off the mark. If anyone has an old menu describing Wor Sue Gai or know how to make it, sharing would be much appreciated. Man, this is a real hoot. John
theferret1558@yahoo.com

Bugsmoran said...

Does anyone know the recipe for the sauce in Wor Dip Har?

Michael Kelly said...

Wow, I grew up on Jong Mea in Indianapolis - Meridian Street location. I can still taste the egg rolls and the ancient waitresses always served us Coke in the little bottle. I've never had chicken chow mien like that. My parents took me there every year for my birthday from the 70s up until it closed in the 90s. Miss it! Thanks for the memory, please post pics. Mike Kelly

Anonymous said...

Lani- I also think about Wor Sue Gai, those delectable egg rolls, the great sweet and sour sauce, pork egg foo young,and all of the other wonderful dishes your family so lovingly prepared and served. Do you know of any restaurants that still serve the old fashioned type of Chinese food like Jong Mae served? I live in Southern California and would travel any distance to there!

Thanks for this Blog!

Gary Lisk

Lani Chin said...

Four years later, I am still overwhelmed by the number of comments about my family's restaurant, Jong Mea. My apologies, but my family nor our staff kept formal records of these recipes. Through a Google search, there is a recipe for Wor Sue Gai as close to the version we served on about.com. And about the only restaurant that still serves it is Wing's in Columbus, OH in Bexley. The Yee Family that own it are longtime friends of my family. http://wingsofbexley.com/default.aspx

Jim Wiggin said...

My family moved to Mansfield in 1966 when I was 10 years old. For years on special family occasions we went to the Jong Mea. We always ordered the Dinner for Six with wonton soup, egg rolls and barbecued ribs for appetizers. We kids loved the ribs and duck sauce. My parents were from New Hampshire and my mother always substituted the lobster dish for one of the included dishes (I can't remember which one). Back in those days you could not buy lobsters at the market and my mother missed it. A friend of mine from Columbus and I were at the Hunan Lion tonight and she did not know about your Columbus location. We googled it and found your blog. Nice memories.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I think we met some years ago. My dad was Richard at the Jong Mea in Indianapolis.

I look through the old menu and can still imagine how the food tasted. Nobody makes Chinese food like Jong Mea. My favorites were the Dow See Pai Quat and the Lychee Gai Kew.

Say hi to your mom and dad. Tell them it's Ricky G. They should know the last name.

Anonymous said...

For the person who asked about the Wor Dip Har. I don't remember the exact recipe for the sauce, but it was basically just a thickened, seasoned chicken broth. The broth was so rich because they kept a stock pot going all the time, adding to it, and only dumping it once a week. The shrimp and bacon were joined with a corn starch paste and then broiled. It was served on a bed of shredded lettuce.

There was also Jong Mea Har which added onions, and believe it or not, ketchup to the sauce.

The egg foo yung sauce was very similarly made.

Anonymous said...

When I was at Herron Art School in Indianapolis during the 1967-71 I frequented the Jong Mea Restaurant. I loved their egg foo yong, and I miss it even still. Is there anywhere in Indianapolis that offers a similar egg foo yong?
willefaust@aol.com

Anonymous said...

I worked downtown Indy in the early 90's and my coworker and I used to frequent Jong Mae's just for those "to die for" egg rolls. My mother lived downtown in the 50s and 60s and used to go there all the time. So I guess I'm a second generation Jong Mae customer. I sure do miss those egg rolls.

Anonymous said...

My co-workers and I used to eat at Jong Mea Restaurant" in Indianapolis in the '80s and I would always get the same thing, The combination plate. I loved it so much I was scared to order anything else. Since it was closed I have tried frantically to find someone else that made egg foo young so well and the veggies were so fresh. Since I can't find another restaurant that comes close, I was hoping to find a recipe. From what I read in the comments I wouldn't be the only person interested in any recipe. It was the BEST. Debbie W., IN

Anonymous said...

Been to Jong Mea's in Indy many
times. I always had Jong Mea Har
and have been searching every
restaurant across the nation for
the dish, no luck. My wife always
had Nan King gu (spelling), no
luck finding that chicken dish
either.

Why, why did you have to close?

Anonymous said...

In the late 1970's as poor grad students at OSU we would go to Jong Mea's with friends who were re-modeling the house at the end of E Rich Street. New Year's Eve was our favorite. Now, 40 years and many miles away, we have Chinese food and fondly remember Jong Mea Restaurant. Thinking of you in CT.

Anonymous said...

My dad swore by the eggrolls at the Columbus Jong Mea- we would drive downtown (when I was very young) just to get them. Now get this - I live in a loft above a warehouse- The sign for Jong Mea is here!!! My landlord acquired it long ago and I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it amongst his collection. I haven't been able to access a good picture but I will someday soon. A great piece of Columbus history I walk by every day on my way home...

Anonymous said...

My family loved Jong Mea. We craved the egg rolls and frequently drove there for them on weekends. My dad was a doctor in Westerville and when he had patients at Grant he would bring take out home. I loved the lobster Cantonese and took my favorite teacher to Jong Mea to savor it on graduating from high school. It was extraordinary. Most chinese food I have had since had been ordinary, except in NYC and SF. I lived in the Bay Area for 24 years and my memory of Jong Mea compares well to the good restaurants there. A wonderful place.

Brad said...

Lani - 1 13 2017 ... I was really happy to find this old post. I was a close friend to Wilgee, Wilman and Faye Chin in Mansfield Ohio. I had the honor of eating at Jong Mea in Mansfield, Columbus, AND Indianapolis - I had been to Indianaoplis even before the boys had been there. Best eggrolls ever, and was pleased when other locations were using the same recipe, ha ! Jong Mea remains my lifelong favorite, and with all locations closed, it's nice to see a tribute. Though Wilgee and Wilman were not interested in continuing the family tradition, and Faye remained there the longest, it was sad to see the Mansfield location close. I'm sure you had similar thoughts about the Columbus location. Your name is very familiar - we may have met. I always appreciated knowing the Chins and being close to them growing up. If you ever find other things to post, or hvae other stories to share about those times - please let me know - bradinca@gmail.com - thanks and take care ! Brad T