Tony Hu, the unofficial “mayor of Chinatown,” plans to open a new location of a world-renowned restaurant chain inside one of Chinatown’s most historic spaces. Hu is bringing Xiaolongkan Hot Pot, a massive Chinese chain that last year opened its first U.S. location in LA, to Chicago. The brand also opened in Houston, and a New York location is planned for the summer.
Hu tells the Tribune the new restaurant could open in June inside the former Won Kow space. Won Kow closed in 2018 after 90 years, making it the oldest restaurant in Chicago’s Chinatown. The building at 2237 S. Wentworth Avenue was built in 1928. The large, colorful signage dominating the neighborhood’s main drag helped cement the restaurant’s status as a Chicago landmark.
Xiaolongkan, founded in 2014, specializes in Sichuan hot pot with 800 locations in China, Singapore, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan. Customers rave about the Sichuan soup base and add-ons like beef and tripe. Hu is the company’s Chicago partner, similar to the arrangement in LA where the company linked up with restaurateurs Tony Xu and Sean Xie. They’re behind LA’s Chengdu Taste and Mian.
Hu and the chain will transform the 92-year-old Won Kow space — the Trib shared a rendering of the modern three-story restaurant. Xie told Eater LA the design for the Los Angeles restaurant would exude “ancient western Sichuan style,” which could be similar to the forthcoming Chicago location’s design.
This is the first major news in a while for Hu, a beloved figure in Chicago’s culinary scene who served as a cultural ambassador. He founded Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown and opened locations off the Magnificent Mile and in Uptown, as well as many other Lao spinoffs. But his restaurant empire dwindled since he served a year in prison for tax evasion starting in 2016.
Hu told the Tribune he hopes to open Xiaolongkan by June. He hasn’t responded to questions for more information so stay tuned for updates.
Xiaolongkan Hot Pot, 2237 S. Wentworth Avenue, planned for a June opening.