A lot of sweet and sour

The following article appeared in the March 7, 2000 issue of the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle

It was 2 a.m. and the young, Chinese restaurant worker was busy serving the bar crowd when four toughs, their courage ratcheted up by bellies full of beer, began to taunt him. They rejected his plea to stop lifting their table into the air and when two burly customers stepped forward to protest, a punch-up broke out. Within seconds everyone in the restaurant wanted a piece of the trouble-makers and they ran from the building, into the arms of arriving police officers.

“Those people helped me, made me feel so good, I decided to never leave Ladysmith,” Tommy Jang says today, flashing his boyish smile. The show of support took place in the late 1960s, in the New Western Hotel restaurant, which later became the Sportsman. Tommy had been in town for 10 years, coming here from Vancouver to cook at the restaurant.

It was hard work. He was in the kitchen 10 hours a day/seven days a week, but his dedication eventually earned him a partnership. When his partner wanted out, Tommy became sole owner – realizing his dream at 22.

But as he grew the business, he needed help so he hired his cousin, Freddy Jang, from Nanaimo. Freddy later owned Diner’s Ocean Gardens, now the Steam Whistle Tap & Grill. Enter a pretty lady from Hong Kong who was to become Tommy’s wife and life-long business partner: Sau Ping and Tommy were married in the United Church here in 1960.

Nine years later, they sold the business to Freddy and against all advice, set about building the Lung Fung Restaurant. Others in the industry told Tommy Ladysmith was too small to support such a restaurant. But they were wrong. Tommy and Sau Ping put up their restaurant on the site of the burned-out Ross Hotel on the highway and opened for business in April, 1970. In July, Tommy was drafted as the 20th founding member of a new Rotary Club to satisfy a membership requirement. Rotarians still gather at the Lung Fung; Tommy still cooks for them.

site-of-Ross-Hotel
Lung Fung Building built on the site of the burned out Ross Hotel on Esplanade Avenue

There have been good and bad years – in good times they employed as many as six waitresses; today, with a slower economy, Tommy and Sau Ping work the restaurant alone. You adjust to the times, they say. But overall, there are good memories and now, 30 years later, Tommy and Sau Ping have served the town longer than anyone else in the food industry.

Along the way, Sau Ping had two children – daughter, Margaret, who now lives in Ontario with two children of her own and William of Port Moody. Margaret was Miss Ladysmith in 1979.

Tommy and Sau Ping say life has been good to them and they appreciate their legion of loyal customers. But it wasn’t always that way. Tommy was sent at age 16 by his father, a poor farmer in China, to live with an uncle in Chilliwack. He struggled to learn English and had to go as far away as Whitehorse to work as an apprentice cook. But he learned his trade well and when opportunity presented itself that day, in 1959, at the New Western Hotel, he was ready to answer the call.

Ladysmith has been richer for his decision too, because Tommy Jang has cooked here for 41 years. That’s a lot of sweet and sour.

Contributed by Rollie Rose