Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Chop Suey Comes to Hollywood

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 6, 1884.

Chinese food has long been popular in the United States, particularly chop suey, and for many it is a Christmas Day tradition. Although stories claimed that chop suey was a special dish created in China, it was devised by Chinese American restaurant owners to appeal to white patrons, using leftovers.

While American laws actively discriminated against Chinese and Asian immigrants, many Americans fell in love with Chinese food, and chop suey. As early as the 1880s, American newspapers documented the dish.  The July 6, 1884, Brooklyn Eagle published a long article on Chinese cuisine. “The renown of Chinese food and cooking is more than deserved. For generations the followers of Confucius and Buddha have studied the art which Brillat-Savarin and Blot rendered famous, and have evolved a system which…possesses an individuality and merit of a high order.” “…Chop soly (sic) is a ragout and may be justly called the national dish of China.”

Proper handling of chopsticks, Buffalo Weekly Express, July 29, 1886.

The July 25, 1886, Savannah Morning News republished articles about New York’s Chinatown, including the proper handling of chopsticks and describing chop suey more thoroughly. While there is occasional use of demeaning language, the article provides detailed information on food and business, especially of the Mong Sing Wah restaurant. “Chow-chop suey was the first dish we attacked. It is a toothsome stew … it is very good and has formed the basis of many a good Chinese dinner.”

Over time, Americans grew to love Chinese restaurants, especially artists and those in more bohemian circles. Many praised the cheap prices of dishes such as chop suey. Chasing new customers, restaurateurs opened cafes near entertainment venues and busy areas, staying open later than many other businesses and often on holidays. Many Chinese and chop suey restaurants opened on Christmas unlike other establishments, attracting Jewish patrons and agnostics.

Los Angeles Express, June 28, 1905.

Per newspaper listings and stories, chop suey began appearing on Los Angeles restaurant menus about 1904, with the first ad mentioning it in 1905. Boos Brothers cafeterias featured it as a dish by the early 1920s. As early as 1910, patrons could order it as takeout.

Chop suey restaurants finally made it to the Hollywood area in 1920, operating in buildings owned by whites. The vast majority were operated, at least publicly, by Japanese Americans rather than Chinese Americans, with many found near stretches where Japanese Americans lived in Hollywood. Many promoted themselves as featuring actual Chinese chefs preparing authentic Chinese food at reasonable prices, and most ended operations in the late 1930s. Much research needs to be completed to try to find family members of operators to obtain more information.

Hollywood Citizen News, Oct. 8, 1920, with “Chow Main.”

Chicago Chop Suey House opened in 1920 at 1733 N. Highland Ave., just north of the Hotel Hollywood. Its Hollywood Citizen News ads promoted its “Eastern Style” Chinese menu and also advertised “food to take home” in 1930.

The Blue Bird Chop Suey Parlors was also one of the first Hollywood establishments, at 6365 Sunset Blvd., operated by K. Hidaka. Los Angeles police raided it in late 1921, finding illegal alcohol. The establishment ran ads in entertainment trade magazines such as Camera as well as the Hollywood Citizen News. It reopened in 1927 under new management, with the tag line, “finest Chinese dishes.”

Over the next few years, several other chop suey restaurants opened. In 1923, Olivette Chop Suey Parlor opened at 4653 Hollywood Blvd., by proprietor Henry U. Hasegawa. Kewpie Chop Suey Parlor opened at 5637 Santa Monica Blvd., managed by S. Imon in a building owned by Mrs. A.R. Davenport. By 1935, the cafe reopened after remodeling, featuring art by K. Uetsuji. Holly Ho Chop Suey Parlor appears to have opened in 1928 at 7060 Hollywood Blvd., in a building designed in 1921 by renowned architects Walker and Eisen which featured several businesses. By 1942, it operated as Chung King Low Restaurant, featuring Cantonese food.

Tokio Chop Suey Parlor opened in 1928 at 1634 Cahuenga Blvd., on a street where Japanese American businesses had dominated since the 1910s. Cherry Ho Chop Suey appears to have opened in the early 1930s, operating at 1507 Vine St., which had served as the office for Noah Beery’s Paradise Trout Club. Proprietor Yasumi installed a neon sign in 1939. In 1946, the business was converted to Hallicks Music Store.

Hollywood Citizen-News, April 8, 1921. “Real Chinese chef!”

In 1934, Chicago Chop Suey House owner Oscar Cowlick hired S. Charles Lee to remodel the building, with the cafe reopening in 1935. Chicago Chop Suey opened at 7573 Sunset Blvd., for a short time in September 1945, publicized as the House of Yee in the Citizen News.

Though patronized by entertainment professionals and other artists, chop suey and Chinese restaurants in Hollywood would not become vastly popular until decades later, at a time when they were actually owned and operated by Chinese Americans. The proliferation of these establishments reveals the large Asian population of Hollywood attempting to promote their food and culture to the Caucasian population, bringing diversity and modernity to the former farming community.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Asians, Food and Drink, Hollywood, Hollywood Heights, Mary Mallory and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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