Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area
Chinese Owned Most Cafes/Diners Served All Wanted
By BURTON 0. LUM
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 10 December 1961
The pioneer eating places of the Tri-City region in the early days were, quite similar. Their proprietors for the most part were Cantonese Chinese. The Chinese Societies of Canton picked their brightest boys and sent them to New York City—bound them out to the famous Cafes of Delmonico’s and Sherrys for a period of two years. The Chinese Societies agreed to pay these cafes the sum of $500 per year for a period of two years for each Chinese boy given employment. The boys worked for nothing. At the conclusion of two years training the Canton Society sent each completing boy another boy from Canton who was to be his helper and to whom he must teach the knowledge he had gained at the famous cafes.
Domestic help was very scarce in the West at this time. Any girl who could cook and do housework was soon married to a pioneer. These young, well-trained Chinese boys could always secure employment in the small western hotels and on the large stock and wheat ranches.
The Chinese were frugal. They soon saved enough to open eating places of their own. They dominated the restaurant field in the Tn-City region and, in fact, most of the West. These early Chinese restaurants usually occupied ground floor spaces. The front door entered into a reception hall. The dining room was to the left front. The kitchen was to the rear, reached by a short passageway from the reception hall. Off the reception hall was a small wash room where a person could wash his face and hands in a tin wash basin and then throw the water out the kitchen door. He wiped his face and hands on the long roller towel. A small mirror hung on the wall in which one could look to part his hair or comb his mustache or whiskers. When this grooming had been completed, one took his sombrero off the nail, porkpied it to suit his fancy and went up front to the dining room. There were no lunch counters in those days.
All food was served on small tables seating four persons each. These tables were covered with red tablecloths. Arranged in the center of each table was a bottle of Lea & Perrins sauce, a bottle of Snider’s catsup, salt and pepper shakers, sugar bowl, spoonholder, a small milk pitcher and a butter dish with butter knife—seldom used. The chairs were old-fashioned, bow-back, hard-bottomed kitchen chairs. These were days before paper napkins were invented.
Ladies were furnished small red napkins; and small children with cloth bibs. There were few burnt holes in the tablecloths and napkins in those days, as few smoked cigarettes. The cigar smoker dusted his ashes on the floor. The pipe smoker emptied his pipe in the spittoon. The tobacco chewer always displayed his finesse by expectorating in the spittoon with a resounding ping. It was a bit of frontier etiquette of the buckaroos to never smoke in the presence of ladies while within doors. Chewing was, however, sanctioned if the chewer had good cuspidor markmanship and didn’t spatter.
The early Chinese restaurants never painted their menus on the windows or wrote or printed them on cards or paper. When the prospective diners were seated, the second cook put on a clean apron and approached, and in a sing-song voice called out the bill of fare to.wit: Beef steak, poke chop, liber bacon, ham en eg, fly ham, fly chicken, col boy beef, horsh lesh. You had to use your imagination somewhat, as “Col boy beep en hors lesh” was cold boiled beef and horseradish. He stared intently as you gave him your order. He wrote nothing down. Returning to the kitchen he gave the orders in Chinese to the first cook. He brought the orders as fast as the first cook prepared them to the proper recipient in the dining room. Seldom, if ever, was an order forgotten or improperly filled.
There were not only free refills in coffee and tea, but in food orders also. Every diner was given all he could eat. The customer was always right. It was an unsolved mystery to the pioneers how these Orientals prospered.
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