Hop Woo: An LA Chinatown Staple

Hop Woo is a family owned, authentic Chinese restaurant located in LA’s beautiful Chinatown. Owners Lupe Liang and his wife Judy both came from poor farming families in the countryside of Enping, China. Both separately left their friends, families, and everything they knew, eventually meeting in Mexico and moving to San Francisco. Hop Woo opened in 1993 with 8 tables and a spark of hope for a brighter future. Lupe cooked and ran the kitchen while his wife, Judy, managed the restaurant and served customers. As the restaurant gained popularity, the building expanded to hold the increased clientele but even that wasn’t enough. Hop Woo grew so popular that a change in location was needed so they moved across the lot from the original building.

Featuring a diverse menu, Hop Woo offers vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, and gluten-free food options as well as their regular menu. They have appetizers, hot soups, chow mein, fried rice, beef, chicken. lobster and other seafood, and lots of other delicious dishes on their menu. In addition to the restaurant, Hop Woo also does catering and hosts private events for the community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Hop Woo hard, almost forcing the restaurant to permanently close. Since the beginning of the pandemic, and the recent rise in anti-Asian racism, it’s lost half its daily business and is barely managing to stay alive with a federal loan, takeout orders, and a contract to deliver meals to home-bound seniors. “Closing the restaurant would mean almost 27 years of sweat, blood, tears and hard work would be lost.” says Mary Liang, daughter of Lupe and Judy. Not only that, but the family would also lose their home as they took out a loan on it to try and help the restaurant keep going.

“Closing the restaurant would mean almost 27 years of sweat, blood, tears and hard work would be lost. We would lose our financial income and be unable to provide for our family or be able to find another job during this pandemic. We would also lose our home of 24 years because we took a loan on the house to help keep Hop Woo going. The Chinatown community would lose another one of their local businesses and we have already seen so many of our friends and community close their doors forever. It’s heartbreaking. We have been through a lot of hard times and situations but this is one of the hardest ones yet, especially now that we’re older and not as strong as we used to be.”

Mary Liang, daughter of lupe Liang and judy

Hop Woo is not just a restaurant, it’s the heart and soul of LA’s Chinatown. When asked about one of his favourite memories of the restaurant, family friend jason chu had this to say: “Actually, the last meal I had out in Chinatown before the pandemic was at Hop Woo. My friend Khai Wu, an MMA fighter from the bay area, was in town with some fighters from Taiwan, and we decided to get together in Chinatown with some other LA homies. We were standing around on the street and Hop Woo was the only thing around that had an open dining room that late – so we went in and sat for hours over boba and some light snacks. That’s the kind of place it is: where a pro MMA fighter, a rapper, a pro wrestler, and an actor can walk in at midnight and talk for hours.”

Hop Woo is family owned, immigrant owned, and provides inspiration to anyone who comes after Lupe and Judy that the ‘American dream’ is possible. “Before I even knew the owners, I loved eating there because it reminded me of the Thai restaurant my uncle owned, of the Philadelphia and New York Chinatown restaurants I grew up visiting with my parents that were the only tangible connections to our Chinese heritage that I had as a kid.” Restaurants like Hop Woo and jason’s uncle’s Thai restaurant provide a little slice of culture and heritage to their communities. For them to close, it wouldn’t just be a restaurant closing, it would be like losing a member of the family.

So how can we help? For those of you who live in LA, give Hop Woo your support, order some amazing food, and maybe even buy some cool restaurant merch. For the rest of us scattered about, share their Gofundme link found here, donate if you can, follow Hop Woo on Instagram, and tell anyone and everyone you know about Hop Woo. Let’s all get the word out and help this family keep their dream alive. Don’t forget to check out jason’s new music video “AYCE” (All You Can Eat) to see Hop Woo!

~ Jordan

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