Joe Yee Cafe: The Best Chop Suey in Town
by Paula Bosse
Chop suey *and* famous chicken house…
by Paula Bosse
I came across the above image and was enthralled. I’ve never heard of the Joe Yee Cafe, but this (granted) idealized picture is wonderful. The postcards above and below were from the early 1950s, and if you are familiar with the generally run-down neighborhood around Columbia and Fitzhugh these days, you may well shed a tear that something this charming and picturesque has been gone for many, many years.
I love the surprising color scheme of the restaurant’s interior — those fabulous purples and greens! (The colors are a bit unexpected because they so loudly clash with the bold tomato red of the exterior.)
I did a little research to see what I could find out about Joe Yee’s Chinese restaurant. Seems that Mr. Yee’s cafe was in business by the 1930s, downtown, on Main Street near Field. It advertised steadily over the years, and its ads proudly proclaimed that the restaurant served “the best Chinese food you ever tasted” and was “completely air-conditioned.” Several newspaper accounts (particularly the society columns) mentioned it as a popular place for young people to grab a bite before and after dances at nearby downtown hotels. Business must have been pretty good for the place to have lasted so long at such a primo location. The cafe moved to the Columbia Street location in 1950 where it remained in business until at least late 1956 when a major fire struck.
Sources & Notes
Top two early-’50s postcards are from the great Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers Postcard Collection on Flickr, here.
In old photos of downtown Dallas one often sees “Chop Suey” signs along the streets. I’d love to know more about these restaurants in general, and about Chinese and Chinese-Americans in Dallas in the first half of the 20th century, if anyone can point me to a good source.
If background on Chop Suey is needed, might I point you to to the Wikipedia entry here, or the Snopes entry here.
Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.
This man may be my great-uncle. Do you have any more information about Joe Yee, like information about his family? His age? Thank you.
Sorry, I don’t have any other info. Dallas directories for the years Joe Yee’s Cafe was in business list several people with the last name Yee, almost all of whom worked in various Chinese restaurants. All I know is that he was working in a Chinese restaurant in Dallas as early as the early 1930s. There was a 1931 newspaper report about several Chinese men suing each other — all of whom who used “Joe” as a first name — I think he was one of the litigants and was identified as “Joe Wah Yee.” I believe he had a son named Joe Yee Jr. The owner of the Joe Yee Cafe was listed in the 1956 directory as, confusingly, Joe Yee Lee Winton.