Joy Young Restaurant, Augusta, Georgia June Law As Told To John Jung June Law is a life-long native of Augusta, Georgia. She grew up living over her family’s Joy Young Café and Market with her parents, brother and sister. She and her sister, Eileen, became educators and spent their entire careers as teachers devoted to their students and their families. My grandfather, Charles Yee, came from China in the early 1900s. After working in a laundry in Atlanta briefly, he moved to Augusta, Georgia, where he opened a grocery store in a black section of town. My father, Loo Yee, emigrated from Guangdong in 1921 at age 13, arriving in Seattle using the paper name, Loo Hin Yee. He first worked in a laundry and also as a cook in LaGrange, Georgia, before coming to Augusta to join his father around 1930.
Figure 1 Left panel: Loo Yee, June Law’s father (third from left) and his cousin Kam Lee (second from left) In front of original restaurant location, mid 1930s. Right panel: Loo Yee in front of Joy Young Café. Courtesy, June Law.
Figure 2 The grocery store on the street level below the Joy Young restaurant. Around 1934 they opened a grocery store at 801 9th Street as well as a restaurant on the second floor of the building. “Joy Young,” the name of the restaurant, in Chinese refers to “a place where all bright, intelligent and good persons are gathered in harmony.” Her grandparents and father lived on the third floor above the restaurant. During this period Augusta had four to five Chinese restaurants, which were located in black neighborhoods. Behind the building, grandfather built a chicken coop to house the chickens they raised to serve in the restaurant. Each week, he would sell fresh chickens, which were popular with local Jews who came to buy them before sundown. A rabbi came by to bless the chickens, and grandfather learned kosher rules for slaughtering the chickens. During World War II, grandfather operated the restaurant without father who was in the air force and served in Italy with the 557th Air Service. After the war, father returned to China to marry, Thew Yee, through an arranged match. As a veteran, he was allowed to bring her to Augusta in 1947 under the War Brides Act. My parents, and their four children, Chuck, Eileen, Jerry, and I, lived above the restaurant on the third floor. By the time we children were 8 or 9 years old, we were helping in the restaurant with duties that included kitchen chores, clearing tables, and operating the cash register.
Figure 2 Father, mother, and Uncle Joe at 801 9th St. location around 1949.
Figure 3. Older step-brother Chuck, father with sister Eileen, and mother Thew Yee 1948. Courtesy, June Law.
Figure 4 Thew Yee serving soldiers from nearby Fort Gordon. c. 1950. Courtesy, June Law. Civic officials were known to have dined so often at Joy Young that some people speculated that many decisions affecting the city policies and political elections could have been made while eating our chop suey and chow mein. When grandfather Yee retired after 1949 and returned to China, father took over the operation of the Joy Young restaurant. The Joy Young Restaurant continued at its original location on the edge of the black business area until the mid-1950s when it moved to a downtown location at 506 Ninth St. Father was resourceful in saving his money and wisely investing in commercial real estate, acquiring three adjoining storefronts to the restaurant, the Georgia Whole Florist next door, a beauty supply store, and a dry cleaner store.
Figure 5 Family in front of new location of Joy Young at 505 Ninth St.
Figure 6 Father Loo Yee cooking in the new location of the restaurant in 1957.
Most southerners in those days had little or no experience with Chinese food and generally ordered only American dishes. Standard American dishes such as steak, pork chops, jumbo shrimp, hamburger steak, and fried chicken, and salads were popular with customers. A few American Cantonese dishes such as chop suey, chow mein, egg foo young, several types of sweet and sour dishes, and fried rice were successful but there was little demand for other Chinese dishes. On the menu, the following information was provided to help convince patrons that Chinese food was delicious and healthy.
Figure 7. Guide to Chinese Food Printed on the Menu
Figure 8: Joy Young Menu Selections Because of the Jim Crow segregation laws of the period, sit-down dining rooms were racially segregated in Augusta as elsewhere in the South. Only whites were served in the dining area, although blacks could buy food for takeout. It was not until the 1960s that civil rights activists successfully sued to enable blacks to receive service in all restaurants. Mostly white women, but occasionally black, worked as waitresses at Joy Young. Operating a restaurant was a time consuming business, with long hours each day of the week. There was also a dangerous aspect because restaurants, like laundries, were attractive targets for robbery. Moreover, there was no time for vacations or trips out of town so it was a welcome occasion whenever visitors came from out of town. Chinese who ran laundries or other restaurants might come by to visit on their day off. Mother was related to the original owners of the well-known Joy Young Restaurant in Birmingham whereas Mrs. Loo had relatives who ran a dry cleaners in Atlanta. They would drop by whenever they came to visit Augusta.
Figure 9 L-R: Loo Yee, Thew Yee (holding Mr. and Mrs. Herman Tomâ€™s grandson Gordon, who was named after nearby Fort Gordon where Herman Tom was stationed). In the middle is Mrs. H. S. Loo, wife of Kam Lee. On the right are Mrs. and Mr. Herman Tom visiting from New Jersey.
Figure 10 Vietta Anderson, waitress, who gave Bibles to the children, with father Loo Yee in front of Joy Young in 1960. On the left is a nephew, Grant Loo.
The Joy Young Restaurant also served as a place for social gathering where Chinese relatives, friends, and overseas Chinese visiting Augusta could get together and enjoy a meal of Chinese food. On Sunday nights, Chinese men from Augusta as well as nearby communities would gather to engage in gambling. Over the years, father hired several older Chinese ‘bachelors’ who had retired following long years of work in laundries or restaurants. They needed a place to reside briefly while they waited for their grown children or grandchildren in China to arrange to send for them. Space on the floors above father’s four stores provided dormitory lodging for them. In return, they helped cook or do other chores in the restaurant. Loo Wai ended up staying for years, and became part of the family. We helped care for him during his old age. Business was declining over time but the Joy Young managed to survive for a few years after father died in 1998. However, after about 70 years of operation, we finally closed the Joy Young Restaurant in 2003 when Augusta exercised the right of eminent domain to purchase father’s buildings to rebuild the downtown area around the Federal Courthouse. A landmark of Augusta’s Chinese community thus disappeared into history.
Published on Dec 7, 2013
Background and history of one of the early Chinese family operated restaurants established by Loo Yee in Augusta, Georgia in the mid-1930s...