Feature: Young barbecue master carries on Chinese family business in Vancouver

Source: Xinhua| 2018-06-29 15:57:27|Editor: Li Xia
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Anson Leung works at the HK BBQ Master restaurant in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, Canada, June 28, 2018. (Xinhua/Liang Sen)

by Evan Duggan

VANCOUVER, June 28 (Xinhua) -- At a Chinese barbecue restaurant facing a dark underground parking lot beneath a supercenter store in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, the line-up of people waiting to be served spreads out onto the sidewalk.

Perhaps, it is not the most glamorous place to check out fresh barbecue choices at the restaurant, called HK BBQ Master, but usually every table in the small dining space is occupied, with glistening soya chickens, barbecued ducks, and slabs of crispy roast pork, among others, hung in a Chinese barbecue display cabinet.

Anson Leung, 25, is the young barbecue master at the barbecue restaurant started 18 years ago by his father Eric Leung.

When they got started, it was just his father and mother operating the business with one chef working in the kitchen, Anson says.

"Honestly, when I was a kid I didn't even think about coming back and doing barbecue," he says.

"As time went on my dad grew older ... and he asked me if I wanted to come back and help him," he says.

At first, he was reluctant to leave his "clean" office job. "But I realized how much effort and blood [my dad] put into this business. It would be a shame for it to go to waste, and to have what we have today is a blessing," he adds.

Leung, now nearly 60, came to Vancouver in 1992 after toiling in many of Hong Kong's restaurants and legendary barbecue shops. Sick of working for others, he opted to launch his own business.

His son decided to join the family business just three years ago after Leung approached him with a big decision: "Either you join to you join and we keep the business in the family, or you don't, and we sell to another owner."

The second option would almost certainly have led to the end of HK BBQ Master, which is one of the most popular of Richmond's nearly 400 Asian restaurants.

Anson opted to leave his work as a professional structural drafter and take on the family business, ensuring it would survive for at least one more generation.

"Back 18 years ago, Richmond wasn't really a big food city," Anson tells Xinhua during an interview in the storage room beyond the packed dining room.

Anson didn't want the restaurant to be sold off or closed.

"If I don't continue the business a lot of people will honestly be upset," Arson says.

At first the business was popular with Hong Kong migrants. Now, about 80 percent of their customers speak Mandarin. They're also seeing more Caucasians coming through the door, he says.


Throughout Richmond, the restaurant business, as a whole, is changing.

The city of about 200,000 residents has about 800 licensed restaurants, says Lesley Chang, a spokesperson for the City, and a regular at HK BBQ Master.

Across the room, a chef in a white apron cleaves a slab of honey barbecue pork and a small team of staff take orders, scoop rice into containers which are then heaped with chicken, pork or duck.

Above one table is a plaque for the 2018 Chinese Restaurant Award for Best BBQ Shop.

"About half of those are Asian restaurants," Chang says, over a plate of honey barbecue pork, and most of those are Chinese restaurants.

The small Canadian city has its reason to see so many Chinese restaurants there.

"Over the past several years we've been seeing the population of residents with Asian heritage grow and grow and grow," Chang explains.

"In the last 2016 census, about 74 percent of the total population here identified has having some kind of Asian background. Over 50 percent of the total population is Chinese," she adds.

Because of that demographic shift, many Chinese or Asian restaurant chains have selected Richmond or Vancouver for their first North American location, she says.

"You're not going to find any watered-down Asian food here," she says.

Other changes are happening. Chinese food here is no longer just "Chinese food".

"We're seeing a change of more regional cuisines," she says.

"In the past, it used to be you could only really get Cantonese food, or you could only get what some would consider 'Chinese' food. Now we're starting to see ... more Szechuan restaurants, a lot more restaurants from Yunnan and a lot more Shanghainese or Beijing-style restaurants," she adds.

While many Chinese-Canadian restaurant owners still aim to pass their businesses down to their children, there is also a movement away from that tradition in the community, Anson says.

"There are more opportunities out there for the kids," he says. "You'd rather be professional accountant or an engineer, or have some other job. The restaurant businesses isn't easy. It's a lot of labor. It's quite intensive physically and mentally."

"Most of the older generation people don't want their kids to be in the same business because it is hard," he says, "the money-making is just okay."

But three years after making his decision, he has no regrets.

"I feel like I should be here," he says. "I feel like it's always been part of me."

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KEY WORDS: Chinese