Since the start of San Francisco’s Legacy Business program, several Asian Pacific American-owned businesses and nonprofits focused on the APA community have won legacy business status. In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’d like to highlight a handful of the many APA-owned businesses in the city that have for years contributed to the cultural fabric of our neighborhoods, and we encourage you to support them during this difficult time if you can.
Yuet Lee Seafood Restaurant at Broadway and Stockton Street has served the Chinatown community for 45 years. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Yuet Lee Restaurant, at the corner of Broadway and Stockton on the border of Chinatown and North Beach, has been serving authentic Hong Kong style seafood dishes for the last 45 years.
Opened in 1977 by the Yu family, it is known for its cash-only late night favorites like salt and pepper squid and garlic crab. Said longtime owner Sam Yu, “I am particularly delighted to see that the name, Yuet Lee, will be listed on the Legacy Business Registry because the restaurant is named after my parents.” Yuet Lee is actually a combination of their names.”
Before the shelter-in-place, Yuet Lee was serving 300-500 customers per day in its 47-seat restaurant. Its facade, exterior color, and layout have not changed much throughout the years, giving it a traditional look and feel and transporting customers to another time and place.
Late 2019, Sam decided to pass the baton and sell the business to longtime employee Wo Jie Zhen, who worked at Yuet Lee for seventeen years after immigrating to San Francisco from China in 2003. Aiding in the transition has been continued positive cooperation with the restaurant’s landlord, who hiked $200 per month off the lease to help the new guard adjust. This is a rare example of positive employee/tenant relations in the city’s cutthroat rental environment.
(1/7)Before I went into surgery, I was able to stop by Yuet Lee Restaurant to personally honor Sam Yu for maintaining the cultural traditions of Cantonese cooking in Chinatown for 44 yrs! In an effort to keep the legacy alive, he has decided to sell the business to his employees. pic.twitter.com/mxPkzRyHRK
— Aaron Peskin (@AaronPeskin) December 21, 2019
During the COVID-19 crisis, Yuet Lee is open for pick-up and delivery (every day except Tuesday). See their options on their website.
Isn’t that a great story? I love that Sam said, “Hey, I wanna retire, but Yuet Lee means so mich to community, I’m gonna let my employees carry it on.” And his landlord didn’t use it as an opportunity to flip the spot or jack up the rent. Beautiful, righteous & community-centered
— Aaron Peskin (@AaronPeskin) December 21, 2019
Date placed on Registry: January 14, 2019
Kimochi, Inc. was established on April 22, 1971, and officially opened its doors in July 1971. Kimochi, Inc. (a.k.a. Kimochi Kai) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit senior service agency based in Japantown. The word “kimochi” means “feelings” in Japanese. For the organization, “feelings” for our elders — respect, gratitude, and love — are expressed through services that enable each generation to age with dignity, pride, support, independence and friendship. Because of language and cultural barriers, many elder Japanese Americans were not able to access mainstream services. Recognizing this need, the Kimochi founders began helping seniors by providing them with information and assistance in applying for government and health benefits and offering transportation services and walking escorts to make sure seniors could travel safely to and from their homes. Organizers, participants and volunteers would gather at Kimochi Lounge, Kimochi’s first site at 1581 Webster Street on the Webster Street Bridge connecting Japan Center’s Kintetsu and Kinokuniya Buildings. The Lounge was where elders could rest, relax, get the latest news in the community, meet friends and have tea. It still operates as a Kimochi site today.
In 1974, Kimochi applied for a grant and was awarded funding from the California Department on Aging to implement a Japanese hot meals program for seniors. Meals were prepared onsite and served at Konko Church, located at 1909 Bush Street. In 1979, Kimochi received funding from the Department of Aging and Adult Services (originally called San Francisco Commission on the Aging) to expand the Congregate Nutrition program to weekends and holidays making it a 365-day-per-year meal program. In 1986, Kimochi’s Congregate Nutrition program consolidated two sites and relocated to 1840 Sutter Street, where it remains today.
Photos of Kimochi’s Nutrition Program, as submitted by Kimochi in their Legacy Business application.
In 1983, Kimochi completed the Kimochi Home building at 1531 Sutter Street and opened its doors for residential and respite care for 20 seniors and adult social day care for 40 seniors. It continues to be a vital community resource for seniors and their families.
In 1999, Kimochi moved to its permanent home at 1715 Buchanan Street, which is the headquarters and home to the Social Services program, family caregiver support program, volunteer program and Club Nikkei staff. Over the years, Kimochi has been quick to identify the needs of the senior population and obtain funding for nutrition, transportation and social service programs. Today, Kimochi occupies five sites—four in San Francisco and one in San Mateo.
During the COVID crisis, Kimochi remains open as an “Essential Service” provider. Staff continue to work hard to provide these essential services to the senior population. For ways to support their work, including monetary and in-kind donations, click here.
Exterior of Eddie’s Cafe, 2016. Photo by Patricia Chang/ Eater SF
In a city where historic breakfast spots like Lucky Penny and Joe’s Cable Car are closing regularly, Eddie’s Café remains a low-key and affordable diner along Divisadero’s ‘now prolific restaurant neighborhood‘. Opened in 1974 originally as a soul food restaurant in a predominantly African American neighborhood, the restaurant served dishes such as fried chicken, oxtail stew, short-ribs, chitins, and Louisiana gumbo, all of which were recipes developed by the original owner, Eddie Barrie. In 1988, Helen and Min Hwang, who immigrated to San Francisco from South Korea in order to start their own small business, purchased Eddie’s, and Barrie himself stayed on for six months after the sale to help instruct Helen and Min in running the business and cooking the recipes. Since then, the Hwangs have preserved the diner’s roots, and continue to serve an affordable diner breakfast with hot coffee served in quirky mugs from the restaurant’s unique collection. Its red vinyl booths, décor that includes letters from international patrons from as far away as Germany and Japan, framed San Francisco Chronicle articles, historic neighborhood photos and more, contribute to the diner’s welcoming and homey atmosphere.
A wall inside Eddie’s Cafe lined with mugs and SF Giants bobbleheads, 2016. Photo by Patricia Chang/ Eater SF
Although the neighborhood has undergone drastic changes since 1974 and the business no longer offers a strictly soul food based menu, Eddie’s Café still maintains a welcoming environment with comforting food to all customers, whether they be locals who frequent the establishment, new transplants to the area or tourists visiting from near and far. Aside from the old-fashioned sign affixed to the building’s façade, the interior of the diner has remained largely unchanged since 1988 when it was purchased by Helen and Min. The Hwangs have upheld the business’ connection to Western Addition history by continuing to offer certain dishes such as grits and sausages and portraying photos and memorabilia such as articles on the interior commemorating Eddie Barrie and his restaurants’ rich history in the neighborhood.
The restaurant has maintained its status as a neighborhood institution, even among the older residents who have been regulars since 1974 and who continue to show appreciation for the welcoming and neighborly environment and good food. During the COVID-19 crisis, Eddie’s is open for takeout every day 8 AM-1:30 PM.
Exterior of Ocean Hair Design. Legacy Business Registry Staff Report.
Additionally, Cindy and Allen have often taken their commitment to the community a step further and offer services for free to those who were and are unable to otherwise afford them. This has been despite a quickly changing retail landscape along Ocean Avenue over the past couple of years, something that has left longtime businesses like Ocean Hair Design at risk of being displaced. Read JK Dineen’s article in the Chronicle here, which includes comments from Huynh about weathering this impact on small businesses.
Though at the time of nomination Ocean Hair Design had operated for 21 years, it faced a significant risk of displacement, with the salon forced to go on a month-to-month lease. It was therefore deemed eligible to join the Registry, which it proudly joined in September 2017. Like all hair salons in the city, Ocean Hair Design has been forced to close during the shelter-in-place necessitated by the COVID-19 crisis. They are continuing to update their customers and the public on their Facebook page (including a video on how to cut your own bangs!).