The oldest restaurant in Chicago’s Chinatown closed last week after 90 years on the South Side. Won Kow Restaurant, the once-bustling spot in the heart of Chicago’s Chinese community, closed on February 1. Signage at the restaurant read that the owner had decided to retire.
Won Kow was a community tentpole for nine decades at 2237 S. Wentworth Avenue. The neighborhood’s changed as much of the attention has shifted north to the intersection of Archer and Wentworth. There’s also more interest in Chinatown Square — the two-story outdoor mall. Reports dispute the year Won Kow opened — it was either in 1927 or 1928. Customers would haul up the stairs to find a massive dining room. Bartenders served large tiki-like drinks as diners enjoyed dim sum.
A sign on the window reads “we appreciate all the business that you have given us over the years. We hope that you have enjoying dining here as much as we have enjoyed serving you.”
As Americans continue to learn about regional Chinese cuisine, Won Kow was an icon to what’s now known as Chinese-American food. Cantonese classics like orange chicken, beef broccoli, and chop suey were all menu lynchpins. Stories circulated that Chicago mafia boss Al Capone had his own table in the dining room’s northwest corner. Armed goons allegedly watched over him as he dined.
Immigrants established Chicago’s first Chinatown in the late 19th Century in the Loop. Much of the Chinese community moved to the South Side in the early 1900s and established the current iteration of the neighborhood, one that Won Kow anchored. Won Kow’s most-recent owners took over the restaurant in 1991. The family of David Hoy and his uncle, Peter Huey, ran the restaurant. They weren’t immediately reached.