Aug 17, 2022 - News

Remembering Chung's, the Cass Corridor Chinatown restaurant

An old picture of Chung's restaurant, on the left, next to a present-day photo of the building
Chung's Restaurant decades ago and present day. Older photo courtesy of Curtis Chin; newer photo by Joe Guillen/Axios

From his family's Chinese restaurant in the Cass Corridor, Curtis Chin encountered all walks of life — drug dealers, artists and white-collar professionals like former Mayor Coleman Young.

  • "Even though Detroit was a very segregated city, they all came to the Chinese restaurant. It was one of those places where it was sort of like a town hall, a town center where you could meet everybody," Chin, 54, tells Axios of Chung's, which operated from 1940-2000.

Driving the news: Chin's youth in 1980s Detroit is the subject of his new book, "Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant."

  • Chin says he'd like to resurrect Chung's at a pop-up event timed with the book's release in fall 2023.

Why it matters: Evidence of the Cass Corridor's old Chinatown neighborhood is fading. The Peterboro, a well-known Chinese restaurant that opened in 2016, closed for the summer last month to regroup after the pandemic.

  • The building that housed Chung's recently went up for sale.

Flashback: Chung's, at the corner of Cass and Peterboro, was one of a half-dozen Chinese restaurants in the area decades ago, slinging 4,000 handmade egg rolls a week alongside other Chinese-American dishes.

  • Chin's family owned and ran the downtown restaurant until his family decided to close in 2000. As a boy, he lived in Southfield but hung out at Chung's every day after school, interacting with customers and reading newspapers front-to-back.
  • "The restaurant was a part of our family — it was like an arm, a leg, an extension. It's really hard to dissect my life, my childhood without thinking about it," Chin says.

The intrigue: Chin, a filmmaker and writer based in Los Angeles, vividly recalls an encounter as a teenager with Mayor Young, who taught him an important lesson about channeling his anger, an emotion he didn't quite understand as a Buddhist.

  • "You gotta find what makes you angry in life and then you gotta figure out how to fix it," Chin says Young told him.
  • "It's just something that always stuck with me. It's OK to be angry sometimes. And that was new, I had never heard that before," Chin says.

Worthy of your time: Chin's recently published essay, "Detroit's Chinatown and Gayborhood Felt Like Two Separate Worlds. Then They Collided."

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