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How a Chinese restaurateur’s mysterious death inspired a play

By Sidney Madden | @sidney_madden_


As Lunar New Year ends, we’re sharing the story of how Chicago restaurateur Chin Foin helped put Chinese food on the map before his sudden death in 1924. 

While many owners of chop suey joints put their restaurants by cinemas, Chin put his near opera houses, catering to wealthy white crowds, granddaughter Nancy Wang told City Cast.

Pic 1: A man poses in traditional Chinese garb. Pic 2: An illustration of a big restaurant with tables covered in white table cloths on checkered black-and-white floors. Tall beige pillars are in the center of the room.
Chin Foin and a postcard of the Mandarin Inn. (Images provided by Nancy Wang)

How? Lavish table cloths, carved wooden tables, Chinese lanterns, live music, and Chinese and western food

Dozens of stir fry dishes lined the first two-and-a-half pages of Chin’s menu at the Mandarin Inn in the original Chinatown, now downtown. He served an Easter special with lamb, mint jelly, and potatoes au gratin.

The Chinese menu features pickled onions, gingers, and more. The American side features broiled mushrooms and oysters. Both menus are in black Roman font with red headings.
Menu from the Mandarin Inn. (Images provided by Nancy Wang)

Life was comfortable for his family who lived in Calumet and vacationed in Paw Paw Lake, Michigan, while Chin worked, went to the opera, and rode horses. 

But in Chinatowns across the country, tong wars were playing out between rival Chinese gangs — including in Chicago. 

When Chin was suddenly found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft the day before he planned to move his family back to China, some began to suspect foul play from a rival family, who had already assassinated one relative in Chicago, Wang said.

Chin’s death is the focus of granddaughter Nancy Wang’s new “Whodunnit?”–style play, which is set to debut next year in San Francisco, where Wang lives. 

But the show is just one part of his legacy: His restaurants inspired the first English-language Chinese American cookbook, according to Atlas Obscura.

👉 Learn more about Chin Foin at the “Era of Opulence” mini-exhibit at the Chinese American Museum. Take a self-guided food tour in Chinatown.


While other kids were bringing turkey or bologna sandwiches to school lunch, Boyede Sobitan was packing jollof rice with goat meat. 

Growing up in Uptown and suburban Dolton, Sobitan remembers how difficult it was for his Nigerian mother to get the traditional ingredients she needed. Often it meant spending all day at specialty markets that were far from home.

So Sobitan and his business partner Fola Dada created OjaExpress, a delivery app for ethnic foods. He tells us how it works and why having access to your cultural food is important.

👉 Check out the OjaExpress website.


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▪️ Jurors found Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson of the 11th Ward guilty on all seven counts in the federal tax fraud case. [WTTW’s Heather Cherone]

▪️ Billionaire Ken Griffin contributed $20 million to Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s gubernatorial bid. Who’s really surprised? [Better Government Association]

▪️ What do you want to see in the city’s climate action plan? Fill out this survey today. 

▪️ This local photographer is selling her work as NFTs. [Chicago Tribune]

▪️ These Sullivan High School students proposed a food cart installation to honor a food vendor who died of COVID-19. [Ald. Maria Hadden]

▪️ Hyde Park Summer Fest is coming back!

A woman poses with a three-layer cake with chocolate, red velvet, and vanilla flavors.
Credit: Eméché Cakery and Cafe Instagram

You thought this food-packed newsletter was done, huh? Nope. 

Eméché Cakery and Cafe in Bronzeville has put together a three-layer Pan-African flag–inspired cake for Black History Month, and I mean, c’mon just look at it 🤤 You can order the cake with its vanilla, red velvet, and chocolate flavors by the slice or whole. 

👉 Order now! Shop Black-owned eateries this Black Restaurant Week.

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