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Fong family closes Dragon City Cafe after 42 years on Lake St.

Posted on 24 September 2018 by calvin

The Dragon City Cafe closed its doors for the last time on Fri., Sept. 14. Even at 2pm on the last day, every table was taken, and customers waited in line at the cash register to get their take-out orders, and to say goodbye.

Located at the SE corner of 43rd Ave. and E. Lake St. since 1975, the cafe had the feeling of not having changed much in all that time. Owner Donna Fong was still in the kitchen, supervising four generations of family members. As she has done for 42 years, Fong’s daughter Joanie Quan greeted every customer—seeming to know each one’s name and favorite dish on the menu.

Photo right: Owner Donna Fong with one of the dozens of fresh bouquets brought in by customers. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Longtime customer Linda Maloney stopped in with her family. “When my sons were young,” she said,”we used to come here several times a week. To tell you the truth, I’d sometimes take a little money from my (now) ex-husband’s change jar if it looked like we might be short. This place was an integral part of my children’s childhood.”

Charles Reimler, seated inches away at the next table, added, “It was the friendliness that kept me coming back. Joanie remembered my stepson’s food allergies every time and would go out of her way to make his favorite meal. It always reminded me of the television show ‘Cheers,’ except without the beer.”

Owner Donna Fong and her husband Daniel came to Minnesota from China and made Minneapolis their home. They cooked at the venerable Nankin Restaurant (then the only Chinese restaurant in town) from 1969–1977.

Photo right: Joanie Quan, center, was one of Donna Fong’s two children who worked full-time in the restaurant since it opened 42 years ago. Now a grandmother of seven, Quan said, “Our customers have been part of our family.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Grandson Bill Quan said, “Many of my aunts and uncles met each other at the Nankin, got married, and then worked for my grandparents when they opened Dragon City Cafe. My grandparents had eight children; their kids, grandkids, and even some of the great grandkids have all been part of the family business. My grandma and grandpa put their heart and soul into this place.”

In a competitive industry, the Dragon City Cafe seemed to break most of the rules for what makes a restaurant last. They kept a small, modest dining area, probably didn’t change the menu that often, had no website and, according to grandson Bill Quan, “never really did any advertising.” But customers loved coming there, and most came very regularly. As evidence of their loyalty, bouquets, pots of flowers, and handwritten notes were piled on every flat surface, and many customers dabbed at their eyes with paper napkins.

Son Richard Fong said, “My parents loved what they did every day here, and it showed.”




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