Hong Kong Cafe, 501 Broadway, a former drive-thru

Hong Kong Café began life at 320 L Street in the late 1940s. The building at 501 Broadway was constructed for Paul’s Drive-In (1956).

Hong Kong Cafe, 501 Broadway
Hong Kong Cafe, 501 Broadway  

Hong Kong Café began life at 320 L Street in the late 1940s. This address was in an area then known as Sacramento’s West End, which encompassed the city’s Chinatown and Japantown.

The 320 L Street address had been a restaurant since at least 1930. It’s listed in Sacramento city directories* with various proprietors: O. Kawasaki (1930-31); Suye Yumikura (1936-37); Jas. and Mae Takeda (1938-39), and Joe Harry (1940-43).  Wong Wah Chew is listed as the proprietor of a restaurant at that address from 1945 through 1949.  In the 1952 directory, the restaurant finally has a name: Hong Kong Café.  Suey Ming Ng and Fong Choy’s names appear too; the other partners were Low Hop Joe and Wong Wah Hook.

The West End, between the Sacramento River and the State Capitol, was Sacramento’s most ethnically diverse district. Restaurants located in this area served local residents—co-ethnics as well as members of other ethnic groups, downtown workers, travelers using the nearby Southern Pacific depot, and returning servicemen.

In the 1950s, Sacramento embarked on an ambitious redevelopment program. The construction of Interstate 5 destroyed much of the West End, including the building at 320 L Street.  In 1962, Hong Kong Café relocated to 501 Broadway, according to Hon Wong, a current owner.  Suey Ming Ng continued as an owner, joined by Sung Wong. The southward move to Broadway was made by many Chinese residents and businesses displaced by the federal bulldozer plowing under the West End.  The Southside neighborhood became the innermost portion of what would become a substantial south side sector of Asian settlement in the Sacramento region.

The building at 501 Broadway was constructed for Paul’s Drive-In (1956) and occupied in quick succession by Fehr’s Drive-In and L & M Drive-In.  The building is set back from the corner, with parking along side, a clue to its birth in the auto-oriented 1950s, in contrast to some other restaurants on the Broadway strip that occupy pedestrian-oriented buildings from earlier decades.  Ironically, owner Sung Wong never owned a car and rode his bicycle everywhere,  including on shopping trips for the restaurant.  Many of those needs were met by Chinese suppliers right in the neighborhood.
Hong Kong Café is said to have been “once the largest Chinese restaurant in Sacramento” and had what was believed to be “the largest volume of take-out orders in Sacramento.” Its traditional Cantonese food helped inspire the book, Every Grain of Rice: A Taste of Our Chinese Childhood in America by Ellen Bonder and Annabel Low.  Ms. Blonder is the granddaughter and Ms. Low the daughter of one-time Hong Kong Café owner and cook Low Hop Joe.  Hon Wong, is the son of Sung Wong, the co-owner who later joined the original partnership. He died in December 1996 at age 82. Hon Wong today owns and operates Hong Kong Café.

*A Note on Sacramento City Directories
Some of the research on the restaurants and properties featured in “Around the World in Thirty Blocks” relies on Sacramento city directories.  These volumes were normally produced every year for marketing purposes, and in separate sections listed (1) every business and resident alphabetically, (2) all businesses by category (like the “yellow pages” of a telephone book), and (3) every business and resident by street address.  It is this last mode of organization that is particularly useful in tracing the history of a particular street or building.  It is important to be aware that these directories are subject to vagaries, such as failure to appear in certain years, incomplete information, and misspellings of names or confusion between first and last names.  Because of these problems, it may be that dates provided in these sketches are off by a year or two and that other details are incorrect.  We welcome corrections.