Ed Fong of David Fong's: Chef Chat, Part 2
Yesterday, Ed Fong gave us a sense of what old- time Bloomington was like before it was officially a city, and how his family appealed to its citizens with both Chinese and American offerings.
Ed is the oldest son of the eponymous founder of David Fong's and now runs the restaurant, bar, lounge, and banquet facilities. While not the chef, per se, he knows exactly what's happening in the kitchen, as he's done just about every job in the place.
His own son is a manager, working for his dad the same way he did. To this day, the majority of the decor and menu has stayed true to David Fong, Sr., and Helen Fong's original ideas and tastes. Today, Ed talks to us about why many things in the restaurant have not changed.
Has the food changed over the years at David Fong's or has it remained mostly the same?
It's probably about 80% the same as what my parents started. We've added a few new items and taken off a few old items that probably weren't the biggest sellers. But the core of the menu is still the same. Very much the same.
What are some of your most popular menu items?
Our chicken chow mein, obviously, is still our number-one seller. My parents started with the chow mein and the fried rice--our number-one and -two sellers. But we also have a lot of house specialties, like our New York Steak Chinatown, our Fong's House Chicken, which is named after us, and these items were created with my mother and the original chef. There's a lot of signature dishes that way.
You could almost say they were kind of, in the beginning, some kind of fusion-style cooking. We kind of fuse American and Chinese, where a lot of places will fuse Asian foods or Italian cuisines and stuff like that. We actually were able to fuse both American and Chinese in some of our dishes.
Our style is Cantonese style, which we try to stay true to that form of Chinese cooking. But back when my parents started, the original raw ingredients were not available to them, so they had to adapt to what they could get here in the States. A lot of the newer restaurants that open up may be more authentic in ingredients just because of the fact that you can get them now.
And the fact that our customer base has been with us for over 50 years. It makes it hard for us to change back to the original dish, when they are used to the way we made the dishes that they are more accustomed to. We've gotten so popular that I actually send a lot of our food across the country to customers that have lived here at one time, had our food, and can't find it where they are at. And now they ask me to ship it out to them.
So I actually ship our food. Especially our chow mein is our number-one thing that we ship out across the country. I've sent it from East Coast to West Coast. As far south as Argentina. And so, we've got some good stories about that.
In a way, the food is original to what you served when the restaurant started.
Yes, that's so.
What are your favorite things here?
You know, I've grown in the restaurant business all my life and part of my growing up in the business is learning about other cuisines, too. I'm not a person that has any particular favorite favorites. I could say certainly our crab meat eggs is one of my favorites. Our shrimp Hong Kong is a big favorite of mine.
Obviously I eat the chow mein and fried rice all the time, not only because I like it but also because of quality control to make sure we stay consistent to the way my parents started us with. I eat a lot of our foods just because I want to make sure that it is tasting as good as it should be.
Are there any places you like to go outside of David Fong's?
You know, I have cravings for certain kinds of food, and I know the restaurants that make it really well. So when I have a craving for that particular item, I'll go to that restaurant for that item.
Are there any particular restaurants?
No, you know, not that I go to a lot. One of the things that I do too, is if I go to those restaurants, sometimes they are difficult to get to, so I learn to try to make things myself. It keeps me interested in the food business--to try to re-create some of their signature dishes. It's a lot of fun.
So tell me about all the different areas in the building.
So my parents started out with the takeout. We still have that. It's a big part of our business. We have the main dining room that most of the people eat in. We also have a full lounge. We also have a back bar that some people may consider a blue-collar bar while other people just come in to have a cocktail. And then we also have a banquet facility for anywhere from 25 to 150 people on the lower level.
Has the design of the place changed at all over the years?
You know, that's part of been our plus and minus. A lot of critics will come in and say the place hasn't changed in 50 years. And that's the reason why our customers keep on coming back. So the changes we have made are very subtle. I think most of my customers, when they come in, they just feel at home here, because we haven't changed a lot.
The lounge hasn't changed...
Did it start out this large in 1966? Or did you build onto the place?
One thing we have added on to the original building plan was the back bar and the banquet facilities. We always had the takeout. We always had the dining room. We always had this bar area/lounge.
Did your family build this building?
From scratch. Actually my father is the one who designed the awnings that you see around the building. He was a trained draftsman. I have the original pictures of the awnings that he drew. So it's become our signature look.
Out of all the regulars you have, are there any you can tell me about that are particularly interesting?
They always say if these walls could talk they'd have a story that would have no end. We've had the pleasure of learning about all our families and customers. We get to know them personally. I'm proud to say that I can probably greet over half of my customers by name. And the other half by face. So we really get to know our customer base really well. And they like it that way. I think my sister put it the best way, saying, "When they come to the restaurant, it's like coming to my home."
I'd like to be able to treat them the same as I would if they came to my home. I hope we extend that feeling, and I hope my employees do the same thing for me when I'm not around. I certainly can't be all places at one time, but I make my rounds, and I think my customers really appreciate when I come by, like to check how their meals are doing or how their drink is or if their takeout order is done.
I certainly don't mind clearing a table once in a while. I'm not here because I'm the boss. I'm here because I work in the restaurant too.
Stay tuned. Tomorrow we conclude our interview with Ed Fong about the iconic David Fong's restaurant in Bloomington.
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