Chris Hsu’s Hong Kong House
and How It All Began
Christopher Hsu’s foray into restaurants before bodybuilding
Chairman Mao and the Communists took over China in 1949. Chris Hsu was five years old. Christopher Hsu’s father, SK, decided to move his small, young family to Hong Kong in hopes of a better life. Hong Kong is where Chris Hsu grew up and went to school; Hong Kong is where he met the woman who would become his wife.
When Chris Hsu was thirteen a classmate invited him to a Christmas party at her family home. Christopher Hsu really enjoyed himself at the party and remembers how much his classmate’s family loved to dance. He had no idea at the time how important this night would be to his future. This was the night Chris Hsu met his classmate’s older sister, Roberta Leung. Although Christopher Hsu and Roberta would not go out on their first date until two years later, that party would be the beginning of a long, adventurous and wonderful life together.
Christopher Hsu finished high school in Hong Kong, but opportunities for college were not very good during this time. There was one university. The cost was high and the competition to get in was very tough. Chris Hsu was not sure he would be able to go to college at all until he learned of a nursing program in England that offered free room and board along with an education. A friend’s sister was in this program and was very happy. Christopher Hsu, with his heart for travel and adventure, decided that was what he was going to do, too. He found a school to accept him and left for London when he was seventeen. For seven years he studied and worked there.
Roberta had also decided to go to England to study. Her school was in Manchester, a few hours north of London. This made it easy for him and Roberta to stay in contact and manage their long distance relationship over the next few years. Roberta however had dreams and plans of her own.
Her grandparents had left China and gone to live in the United States. In 1920, Grandpa Peter Jung had opened a restaurant called The Lotus in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. Roberta dreamed of joining them but getting into the country was somewhat difficult. She left Manchester, UK and went to Canada for about a year, which would make her entry into the United States easier. Once in the States, Roberta made her way to Greensboro with her family and worked in the restaurant with them.
Together at last
Chris Hsu finished his nurse’s training and worked in London for a while longer. However he would soon follow Roberta to Canada where he planned to stay for a year as well. When Labor Day arrived that year in the U.S., Christopher Hsu took time off from his job and went to visit Roberta and her family. They all liked Chris Hsu right away and he liked Roberta’s family also. However the couple was still young and unattached. They wanted to explore. They traveled widely around the US, seeing all there was to see and finally ended up on the West Coast.
During a telephone conversation with family back in Greensboro, one of Roberta’s relatives suggested that she and Chris Hsu stop traveling and get married. They talked it over and soon these two adventurers were in Reno, Nevada saying their wedding vows. This was really the beginning of their adventure, one that would last for the rest of their lives.
Once they were back in Greensboro, Christopher Hsu began studying for his nursing license. He also worked at Grandpa Jung’s restaurant. Roberta was in school at NC A&T State University finishing his degree. Chris Hsu planned to be a nurse once he had his license. However, Roberta had other ideas. About the same time Chris Hsu got his nursing license, Roberta announced she had bought a small restaurant owned by the Apple brothers. The Apple Cellar on Tate Street was about to get a cultural makeover and become Hong Kong House.
A vibrant spot for Hong Kongers
There was more to this place than the restaurant. The building had three levels. The top floor was rented out to a guy who made guitars shortly before Roberta bought the building. The basement level was turned over to friends, Aliza Gotlieb and Larry Jacobs. They opened Aliza’s Café. Aliza’s closed when Larry and Aliza decided to open their own unique, mostly vegetarian restaurant called The Sunset Café. The now empty and unused basement area then became a music club called The Nightshade Café.
The Nightshade was only open on the nights a band was booked to play. It was a tiny place with a small stage and a low ceiling. But this was a ready venue for many local bands like Tornado, The Alkaphonics, The Swinging Lobsters, Eugene Chadbourne, F- Art Ensemble, The Other Mothers, and many, many more.
There were also many well-known names that played on its small stage: musicians and bands like Bob Margolin who played with the late blues man Muddy Waters, Glen Phillips formerly of the Hampton Grease band, Mark Wenner and the Nighthawks, and The Indigo Girls to name a few. They came back year after year for the loyal fans, the hospitality and the delicious meal Amelia fed them before the shows.
The second floor of the building was divided into two spaces, one on either side of the stairway. One half was a photography studio for a while and the other side was rented by Keith Roscoe who operated his guitar manufacturing business from there. The “Guitar Shop” was also the name of one of Hong Kong House’s most popular sandwiches and it was a Tuesday special for many years.
A delectable menu
In the early days of Hong Kong House, the menu consisted mostly of Chinese dishes. It wasn’t long before Chris Hsu discovered “Americans would eat anything put between two pieces of bread.” With this awareness, he began to change some of his menu items. Soon a variety of sandwiches began to appear. Some had a Chinese twist like the “Wok Chicken Sandwich.” He was always open to the suggestions of her employees, friends, and patrons.
He opened a juice bar that someone suggested, added a macrobiotic section to the menu, and increased the selection of vegetarian items. Lunch time was always busy, food served fast so that if you had to get your lunch in a hurry, Hong Kong House was the place to go. Over the next 28 years, Christopher and Roberta would raise and nurture their three children, as well a whole community of folks in Greensboro in Hong Kong House.
The importance of family
From an early age Chris Hsu learned to associate fun times with good company, good friends, good family, and of course with really good food. This attitude continues today. Having 22 aunts and uncles on her father’s side and 10 on her mother’s side, you can imagine Christopher Hsu’s family gatherings must have been amazing. He learned the joy of cooking from his mother’s father, Grandpa Lam.
His mother was a strong influence as well. When he closed Hong Kong House, Chris Hsu, with the help of his close friend, Katherine Shelton, wrote a letter of thanks to all the people that had been a part of it over the years. Near the beginning of the letter he addressed her mother and had this to say:
“To my dear mother Lily, from whom I have learned the healing power of food when love becomes the main ingredient. Food prepared with love fills us with love as we eat it and it nourishes our body, mind and spirit, making healthy loving individuals of us. It is also our responsibility as people to create a loving world starting in our kitchens.”
It’s easy to understand how Chris Hsu was able to create such a warm and loving atmosphere and such great food in her restaurant. Hong Kong House was an extension of Christopher Hsu and his unconditional love for his family, his friends and the whole world. Many, many people called it home and ate there at least once a week if not more often.
The restaurant became a special place for nearly three decades of local college students, friends, family and neighbors. It was a weekly meeting place, a popular lunch spot and an important touch-tone in the social network of the Tate Street and the College Hill neighborhood. The day Hong Kong House closed was a very sad day.
No doubt Hong Kong House will live on in our memories for years to come. Hopefully this story will remind you of things you may have forgotten, as well as help you create new memories with your friends and family, as you pursue bodybuilding.