By Gary Libby
CAFAM recently acquired four photographs of the former Pekin Restaurant in Bangor. These 1920s vintage photos, showing the exterior and interior, complement an oral interview of Raymond Li Min Huang, the son of the Pekin’s founder. CAFAM also obtained a photo of Raymond, then known as Raymond Jones, as a 6-year-old child in 1929 taken outside the Pekin, as well as a 1930s menu. All these items now reside in the Maine Chinese Archive at the Maine Historical Society.
The Pekin was established by a man named Wong Jack June (“Jack June” being a rather loose spelling of his personal name). He was born in the Toishan District of Guangdong Province in 1893. (Toishan – or Taishan — is a place from which large numbers emigrated in the 19th and 20th centuries.) At 16 or 17 he immigrated to Seattle to join some cousins there. When he arrived, the authorities declared him to be Wong Jack Jones, and “Jones” he remained thereafter. He worked for about a year in the Washington salmon canneries before joining other relatives in New York City and becoming a waiter in a Manhattan Chinese restaurant.
About 1918 Quoy Wong, the owner of the Oriental Restaurant in Bangor, invited him to come to work as a waiter. Jones and Wong got into a serious disagreement about six months later.
Apparently liking the Bangor area, Mr. Jones decided to quit the Oriental and open a competing restaurant which he called the Pekin.
The Pekin was located at 24 Post Office Square just a half block from the Oriental, and accommodated about 120 customers. It was open seven days a week from 11:00 AM to midnight. Four Chinese cooks and six non-Chinese waitresses served the fare. The restaurant was definitely Chinese-American. The menu offered slightly more American items than Chinese. Thirty five cents bought you a lunch of fried halibut in tomato sauce, soup, coffee and dessert. Even the Chinese section was heavily Americanized, mostly types of chop suey and chow mein.
Mr. Jones returned to Toishan in 1920 for an arranged marriage to Chin Ngan Kee who returned with him to Bangor. This being the era of Prohibition, she fermented rice in barrels in the basement of the Pekin and distilled Chinese rice liquor for the family and for the half dozen or so local Chinese laundrymen.
Raymond and his siblings, using their little red wagon, delivered gallon bottles of the clear potent liquid to these laundrymen. Perhaps because of the spirits, the laundrymen would gather at the Pekin on Saturday evenings after closing their laundries.
On their only day off, they would eat, drink, and gamble, often playing pai gow, a dominos game, into the early hours of the morning.
Mr. Jones became a naturalized American citizen in the mid-1930s. A staunch straight-ticket Republican, he joined Bangor’s St. Andrew’s Masonic Lodge, where he became a 32nd degree Mason and a member of the Anah Shrine Temple. He enjoyed hunting and fishing.
When he became prosperous enough to buy a house, he had to have a local banker and Pekin Restaurant regular, purchase the house in his stead. According to their arrangement, the banker bought the house, and Mr. Jones paid the banker until the loan was paid off. The banker then deeded the property to Mr. Jones.
Wong Jack Jones retired in 1948 and closed the restaurant. Like many contemporary Mainers he eventually settled in Orlando, Florida, where he died. All of his six children left Maine after World War II.
[From the March 2005 CAFAM Newsletter]