He's not the chef, but Ed Fong is in charge of all that happens at David Fong's, the Bloomington restaurant that has been around for over 50 years. He's cooked, he's cleaned, and he's emptied trashcans during his many years working at the storied Chinese eatery, bar, and banquet space.
Here's Part 3 of our chat with him. (Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.) Find out about their clientele, how the restaurant business has changed over the years and where all his brothers and sisters are now. Then you'll be prepared to check out David Fong's and experience the famed venue's Chinese-American charms.
You've done all the jobs in the restaurant at this point?
There's nothing that I haven't done here, so all my employees know it. When I ask them to do something, it's not because I can't do it.
Are your customers mainly from Bloomington?
Obviously we draw the strongest probably from within a 10-mile radius, but I have a lot of customers--I just had a customer from Rosemount yesterday. I have a lot of customers up in the northern area--Plymouth, Fridley--all over the northern area and the metro area. Part of it is because when we started, Bloomington was a small city. And as it grew, a lot of customers moved outside of Bloomington. For special occasions, a lot of them come back. So I get a chance to see them quite a bit that way.
Bloomington's a very vital city, so when they come through the area, they make one of their few stops here. A lot of times when they come back from taking a trip down south for the winter, their first stop off, before they even get home from the airport, they'll come here and have a meal. So, to me it makes me feel good that they would make that stop here.
How else has your family and the restaurant been a part of the Bloomington community?
We grew up and all of us graduated from the Bloomington school education system. We've all played sports in the BAA program. We played in the high school levels. We participated in a lot of fundraisers in the community. We just completed a big one where I donated a cooking demonstration for 30 people. I did the cooking for that.
Do you still have sports teams you sponsor?
We sponsor a lot of the amateur teams around here. We usually sponsor two or three softball teams, a volleyball team, some peewee hockey. We try to do as many as we can. Again we feel that when the community is strong, we're strong also. So it's a two-way street for us. And so we want to keep that relationship going.
How has the restaurant business changed for you over the years? Or hasn't it?
You know it has. We've gone through a lot of major changes, such as the smoking laws, the drinking laws, dietary concerns for customers. All those things have changed some of our menu items. And because we make almost everything from scratch when we make it, my customers know that they can have it customized.
The most popular ones are probably no MSG, low sodium, less fat. We can modify portions where they might want less meat or more meat in their dishes, depending on their dietary concerns. So a lot of our dishes are modified to our customers. They know that. They appreciate that we can make it.
The newest thing is now gluten-free. We have a lot of menu items that are gluten-free for our customers. We haven't made a menu up about those things, but I've trained my staff so that they can ask and we can make it for them.
Can you imagine doing anything else for a living?
You know, it's a fun question. I love playing sports still. There are hobbies that I wish I could do and maybe someday I will do some of those. But the business takes a lot. And I've raised two boys. Raising a family was a lot of work. And so I give a lot of praise to my wife on that. Family is first, even within my siblings and my parents and my grandparents and stuff like that. Between all that there is already a lot there. Maybe someday when I decide to slow down a little bit there will be some other things.
Any sport in particular?
I'm a spectator for a lot of sports--baseball and hockey and football. I probably still play a little golf. I still practice a little martial arts. I do a lot of exercise at the gym. I'm also active on the Minnesota Restaurant Association Board, the state board. I'm a board member there and a board member on a couple other committees too. So I stay active that way, not only in the local community but outside that, statewide.
How many staff members work here?
I have a staff of 60. We have about half full-time and half part-time.
When did you take over running the restaurant?
You know, it's pretty vague now. When I got out of college, I was going to go through a six-month stint in the kitchen. It turned out to be three years. After that my father said you take over the daily operations. And soon after that I did. At that time my uncle and my brother were partners with me, and now they've moved on, but I stayed with the business.
Do your parents come to the restaurant?
They certainly don't have anything to do with the daily operations anymore. The customers are always liking to see them. So I kind of say they are on my PR committee. And so they are always more than welcome to come in, sit down, and talk to the customers, buy them a drink or dinner, whatever they want to do. So they certainly have free rein when they come to the restaurant.
And is there anything you want us to know about the place?
We've won a lot of awards. We won a Top 100 Chinese Restaurants (in the U.S.) two years in a row in '77 and '78. We've won many local awards for best Chinese and best community restaurant. And I think those are things that we're very proud to be known for. I would hope that when they come here as customers that they come here as guests of mine. That's kind of the way we build our clientele.
Do you live in Bloomington?
I actually live in Bloomington. I always have. About eight minutes away. Certainly when I'm not here, when I'm needed, I'm just a phone call away.
And how old are your kids?
My youngest is 25, and one of my managers, and my oldest is 27.
And the rest of your family?
Most of them still live in town. Most of us are still in the food business. Again, I have a sister in Prior Lake. I have a sister and brother in Savage. My brother who used to work here with me is now the general manager of the Culver's in Bloomington, and my one sister in California would like to be in the business but her husband has decided that that's not his cup of tea. But we all grew up in the business, so we all know what it takes to do the business. We're not afraid of that. I think we've all done a good job, and I credit my parents for that.
How many people come to the restaurant on a daily basis?
I mean, easily two, three hundred people a day. If not more. Maybe more than that. Probably three to four hundred a day, throughout the day. You know, lunch, dinner, and in between.
Do you have events regularly in the banquet room?
We have some groups that meet every week. We have some that meet once a month or seasonally, four to eight times a year. Then, we do a lot of special occasions. Birthdays are our big thing. Anniversaries, wedding receptions. So we can accommodate a lot of those family functions, most of them.
You have a lot of specials. Can you tell me a little bit about them?
We try to add some specials every once in awhile. Our house specials are unique to us. Our New York Steak Chinatown, our Shrimp Hong Kong, Fong's Chow Mein, Fong's House Chicken, Subgum Wonton.
Also you have specials, like a happy hour, etc.?
We do a happy hour Monday through Saturday from 2 to 6, which has special pricing. We also have a late night, after 9 o'clock. We give out free hors d'oeuvres Monday through Thursday, during the happy hour. And then we will run specials such as Monday/Tuesdays make your own flight night. You can choose any three wines that we carry and make a flight out of those.
I think a lot of my customers like that because they get a chance to try three different wines that may be similar, or may not be similar. Some of them again are maybe not big wine drinkers and are just starting to learn it. So maybe they'll try a white, a blush, and a red wine. You know, together and taste the differences side by side. That's the way I learned to drink wines is to do side-by-side comparisons.
And we probably only brought the wines in--it's a recent acquisition for us--probably less than 20 years that we started bringing the wines in. We started out with just box wines and probably about less than 15 years ago we started bringing a pretty good variety of wines to come into the restaurant. I started out with trying to choose the ones that paired the best with our foods, and then I also brought in some wines that are just good drinking wines.
You have suggestions if somebody wants to ask what wine goes with their meal?
Yeah, I've also done some wine pairings. We've teamed up with a liquor store, and we do annually a wine and food pairing dinner.
Which liquor store?
United Liquors at 90th and Penn. So the two of us will taste. He'll bring in some wines and I'll bring in some wines and then we'll taste them. We'll choose the wines and then I'll pair the food with them. We have anywhere from 40 to 60 people come in, and we have a nice dinner and we talk about the wines and we talk about the food too. Those times I may bring some new items in just to pair with the wines. Again we have a full kitchen, and I have an experienced chef back there that I work with, and between the two of us we'll bring some food pairings together.
How long has your chef been here?
Steve has been with me for seven years.
At one time were you the chef?
I was head of the kitchen, yes. I was in that three-year stint there. I learned how to order. I learned how to make the foods. I cut the vegetables.
Is there anything coming up at Fong's?
Our biggest celebration that we have is the Chinese New Year. That will be coming--I haven't looked up the date yet. The date floats with the lunar calendar. It can be anywhere between January and February. This is the year of the rabbit at this time [January 23, 2011; Year of the Dragon is next].
The next big event I'm involved with--I don't know if you've heard about the Twin Cities Original Restaurants--TCOs. There's a TCO event coming up next Thursday where we're providing food and wine for customers at the TCF Field. We'll feed somewhere between 400 and 800 people.
When you eventually retire, what will you do?
I haven't looked that far ahead. I'm still too young. I don't know yet.
How long have you run the restaurant?
I've probably run the restaurant since I was about 23, so about 30 years now.