Chinese Restaurants, Rocket Up
"Chinese Restaurants, Rocket Up"
by Dick Mauer
In the late 60s Charley Heyer and I caught a 5 day summer detail through central New York. We went out basically to wave the flag, but we checked businesses and agriculture as we found them, and updated contact cards. In Syracuse on Onondaga Street we came upon a recently opened Chinese restaurant. It was near 3pm, between lunch and dinner, perfect for checking the help as everyone is there. Charley, having the younger legs posted up at the back door and I went around the front. The waiter came to seat me and when I badged him, he almost collapsed. Ship Jumper!
I take him into the kitchen and the bus boy and cook are wet also. The waiter wants to call the owner. OK. The owner, a short Chinese LAPR shows up in about 3 minutes. He starts off excited and goes down hill from there. He is demanding that his help be allowed to work the dinner hour. We tell him, "No way that's gonna' happen" Now he is really frantic and is bellowing "What I gonna' do, What I gonna' do, I just got my ricquor ricense" Only one answer to that, "Rock Door".
Yep, no doubt about it, my favorite part of the job was hitting Chinese restaurants. Right up to the Tiananmen Square massacre, apprehensions at Chinese restaurants were an infrequent but happy occurrence. Within a couple of years, after Bush 41 put the kibosh on deportations to mainland China, Chinese restaurants started showing up on every other corner and in every small community. The tong no longer had any fear of sending workers into the upstate towns because they would no longer have to put up an appearance bond if they got arrested. The bonds had gone to $5000.00 and higher and tong attorneys would show up with a briefcase full of money to post them.
The restaurants were all unique in layout and you had to get to know that layout before you checked it. Someone (the younger the better) always had to be at the back door to catch the runners and you also had to know the hiding spots within the restaurant. One restaurant in Rochester had their dining room over a big 3 foot crawl space that really smelled. You certainly wanted to get someone by the entrance to that crawl space quick, once you got inside. Other restaurants had sleeping areas for the crew on the second or third floor and going into these areas was like stepping into another century. If the help didn't sleep at the restaurant they would have a house or apartment always within walking distance and you could locate it by being observant at shift change or quitting time. Rule number one was to NEVER eat in a restaurant that you had checked. A good look at the kitchen would usually be your reminder.
These thoughts all came forward recently when the national media picked up on a local story about a Chinese restaurant that was fined and closed after a health inspector found the Chinese cooks butchering a road kill deer in the restaurant kitchen. Who knows what else went into the Moo Goo Gai Pan. The old joke about no stray cats or dogs around these restaurants hits too close to home. I also remember a story from another local town where the police arrested 2 Chinese cooks killing the tame ducks in the town park at night!!