Stories of Uptown

Uptown, ever welcoming, and ever evolving, is a vibrant, living tapestry — as rich in history as it is in culture. The neighborhood has long been home to social activists and advocates, immigrants and refugees, artist and entrepreneurs of every stripe, all of whom have helped shape the area as it is today. Through this storytelling series, Uptown Chamber of Commerce aims to spotlight personal histories and stories from the shakers and movers in business, non-profit, and the cultural arts that make Uptown unique. These spotlights serve as an extension of our mission to build a strong, unified business environment, facilitate economic development and strengthen community.

Pho Loan

Loan Nguyen, hailing from a line of cooks in Vietnam, and her husband, Quang Le, took the long route to realizing their dreams of becoming restaurateurs in the United States. The two came to the United States in 1995 and lived in California for one year before moving to Chicago. With limited resources and a need to make a living to support their family, both Loan and Quang worked in the nail industry as nail technicians. Their true passion has always been to follow their family’s footsteps in showcasing Vietnamese cuisine as cooks and restaurateurs. After years of building financial stability, the couple had the opportunity to realize their dreams when they opened Pho Loan in 2014 at 1114 W. Argyle Street.

“I decided to open my business in this area because it is the hub of Vietnamese culture and community and felt that by opening my business here would add to its continued growth and prosperity.” Loan states. As the name of their restaurant indicates, Phở is their specialty, but they serve much more than that. From traditional rice dishes like Cơm Bẩy Món Bặc Liêu, a rice dish with seven toppings, to Bún Thịt Nướng, a grilled pork vermicelli cold noodle dish, the menu is extensive. But it is the Lunar New Year where special items are seen at the restaurants. According to Loan, “Lunar New Year is the most important holiday to the Vietnamese people. During Lunar New Year, my business specializes in selling traditional Lunar New Year food items like Bánh Tét (glutinous savory rice cakes), Dua Mon (pickled vegetables), Giò Thủ (Vietnamese headcheese). During this time of year, we welcome and cater to visitors near and far who come to this area to celebrate the Lunar New Year celebrations and attend the annual parade.” By offering traditional Lunar New Year food items at their business allows for people to experience a part of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year culture and heritage. Loan “hopes that by inviting people who come from near and far to experience this, it will bring the larger community more support, prosperity, and good fortune for the years ahead.”

When asked if she has any hopes and dreams for this year of the rabbit/cat, Loan stated that her wish for this Lunar New Year for the Argyle community is for it to become a stronger, more prosperous community. With continued and further support from customers, local organizations, and the city, she hopes to see this area build up, develop further, and thrive into the future. From the owners of Pho Loan, “This Lunar New Year, we at Pho Loan wish the Vietnamese community and the Asia on Argyle community a year of good health and a year where all your wishes come true! To our customers, we wish you all prosperity and for your continued support of not only our business but the whole Asia on Argyle community!”

Stop by Pho Loan located at 1114 W Argyle Street to pick up traditional Vietnamese Lunar New Year food items (while supplies last!).

Hon Kee

For over 40 years, Paul Tsang, the owner of Hon Kee BBQ & Seafood, has experienced Lunar New Year celebrations on Argyle. He and his family opened their restaurant in 1981 and have remained a mainstay of the community since then. Specializing in Hong Kong barbeque – roasted duck, chicken, and pork –  and much more, Hon Kee provides those within the diaspora specialized Lunar New Year food items for dine-in and carry-out. Aside from his special Lunar New Year roasted meats, Paul mentions that the grocery stores around the area also sell important food items like mandarin oranges and candies that signify good luck and good fortune for the coming year.

If you ask Paul or any other business and community leader in the community, Lunar New Year to the Argyle community is one of the most important holidays for the Asian diaspora in this community. The significance of the Lunar New Year is that it brings in a new spirit – things like progress, good luck, good health are looked for in welcoming the new year. Each animal of the Chinese zodiac represents something specific for that new year.

According to Paul, Lunar New Year celebrations first started in the area in 1974 when the Hip Sing Association made Argyle Street their home. There’s been a parade to commemorate the Lunar New Year from 1974-1975 all the way up until now. The traditional lion and dragon dance are key components of the Lunar New Year Parade as they have cultural significance. Paul mentions that when the lions visit a local business, it signifies the sweeping away of bad luck and spirits and replacing it with good luck and prosperity in the new year for the business owners. Luck extends beyond the traditional lion dance. There are also the red envelopes. Wrapping money in red envelopes is expected to bestow more happiness and blessings on the receivers. “It is a traditional thing in our community. This all is to bring good spirits to the community in the new year”, states Paul.

When asked what he looks forward to in the Year of the Rabbit for his business and the larger Argyle community, Paul hopes the Argyle community gets stronger and stronger. “You can see the parade, even last year with the pandemic, lots of people, a few thousand people, came out and supported local businesses.” Paul believes that with the continued support of visitors and customers, from local organizations like the Uptown Chamber and Uptown United, along with the Alderman’s office and the city, the area will continue to grow and flourish.

One of the strengths Paul witnesses within the Argyle community is in its diversity. “Asia on Argyle now is very diverse. We have Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese businesses, and some Indian businesses that make up the diverse Asia on Argyle community.” The Asia on Argyle community is a place where you can come and try a lot of different kinds of cuisines and experience culture. As for Lunar New Year wishes, Paul Tsang wishes “everyone in this diverse community to continue to help each other to make the community safe and stronger.”

Hon Kee BBQ & Seafood is located at 5009 N Winthrop Ave. To get a taste of their specialized Hong Kong BBQ items, stop by after the Lunar New Year Parade this Saturday! Check out their full menu here

Qideas

Photo Credit:  Wesley P. Le

For as long as Ellen Duong can remember, Argyle has always been a second home to her. After fleeing the Vietnam War in the early 1980s as boat people, Ellen’s parents found a community here on Argyle. It was welcoming and felt like home during a difficult time for them. Growing up on Argyle her whole life, she has fond childhood memories of getting egg tarts and juice boxes before going to preschool to watching the streets filled with families and children who looked just like her. Argyle, as a community, is a meeting place for people to feel safe, accepted, and proud of their cultural heritage and background. For her growing up, she felt accepted and a sense of belonging on Argyle that she did not feel anywhere else in Chicago.

As a legacy business in the area for over 20 years, Qideas has now passed down to her. She feels an immense responsibility to give back to the community that helped raise her. Qideas is her love letter to Argyle, the Vietnamese diaspora and her family. As a 2nd generation business owner, she states that it has been a tough and interesting time to have a business in Argyle. Argyle has experienced a lot of change over the last eight years and it has been extremely difficult to continue to maintain a legacy business here.

Despite these challenges, there is hope leading into the Lunar New Year. For Ellen, Lunar New Year and its celebrations are a way for her to feel connected to her culture. She enjoys paying respect to traditions and getting excited to celebrate something that is uniquely special to her. The Year of the Rabbit/Cat is expected to be a year of patience as we leave behind the fighting fierce Year of the Tiger. Ellen is looking forward to continuing to build, advocate, protect, and support AAPI history and stories in the Asia on Argyle community.

Be sure to stop by Qideas, located at 1134 W Argyle Street during the Lunar New Year Parade this Saturday to support this legacy business that has contributed to the identity of Argyle over the last two decades. According to Ellen Duong, “We have Year of the Rabbit trinkets to commemorate, don’t miss out or you’ll have to wait 12 years to see it again! And to a year of patience, compassion and working together!”