Hanford Wong of Marystown said that since his father’s passing there is a sense of something missing as he works at the Wong Palace Restaurant, the family’s business located in Marystown on McGettigan Blvd.
“We are a family business,” Wong said with emotion evident in his voice, “and even though he hasn’t really worked here in the last couple of years, he was always here anyway every day. So you go in the kitchen, there’s an empty chair where he would be.”
Wong passed away in early January at the age of 80.
Looking for a new opportunity
Henry Wong immigrated to Canada in June of 1956 at the age of 18. He landed in Vancouver before making his way to St. John’s where he worked for many years before relocating to the United States of America.
“He worked in San Francisco, Alaska—then he moved to New York, he worked as a taxi driver there. He was a waiter and then became a cook,” explained Hanford Wong.
Henry moved back to St. John’s in 1974 where he worked as a cook in a number of restaurants before starting a takeout on Water Street.
"I think from 1975-82 ... we had a small place in St. John's," explained Wong. "Dad was looking to expand to a larger place, and better opportunities—he was looking between North Sydney and Marystown. He decided on Marystown.”
Henry Wong moved to Marystown from St. John’s in February 1982, and a month later he opened Wong's Palace Restaurant in the Marystown Mall, operating there until 1989 when the business moved to its present location.
Hanford described his father as a hard worker, who in the early days of the business would sometimes handle 16-18 hour days.
He added that when the restaurant first opened, Marystown was an appealing place to do business. “At the time they had the shipyard and the fish plant — it was the main hub of the area. There were no other Chinese restaurants on the peninsula at the time.”
Henry semi-retired in 2006 but remained active in the business until he suffered a stroke in 2016.
Hanford said that when the family first came to Marystown, it was himself, his father, mother, three brothers and his grandmother.
“With the business over the years, we basically helped (my) mother’s whole family immigrate to Canada … They all worked through the business and eventually moved on to Toronto.”
Hanford said that he learned many important things from his father that will remain with him always. “To work hard, work ethic — to take care of your family.
“He didn’t begrudge anybody what they had,” said Hanford. “He worked hard for what he had, but he never looked down on anybody for what they did or didn’t have.”