Joyce Chen (1917-1994)

Company: Joyce Chen
Started: 1958
Size: $9 million in its heyday

Chinese restaurants may be a common site across America today, but such eateries were hard to come by when Joyce Chen opened her restaurant in 1958 near Harvard and MIT in Cambridge, MA. Chen, who left Communist China with her husband in 1949, was a mother of three. Her egg rolls were a hit at school bake-sales, and she often taught cooking classes in her home. Chen was encouraged to start the restaurant by Asian students from Shanghai who were at MIT who were so homesick for the kind of food she prepared that they lent her the start-up money. Chen is credited with introducing Americans to Mandarin style food not only through her highly successful restaurant – popular during its heyday with notables such as Henry Kissinger -- but also through her 1966 PBS series “Joyce Chen Cooks,” and her cookbooks. She developed the flat bottom wok after becoming frustrated with trying to use traditional round woks on the flat surfaces of American stoves. Chen’s name also appeared on food products and kitchenware. Her restaurant closed in 1998; as of 2013, food products bearing her name are still available through a Joyce Chen brand business run by her son.

References:

  • Picture: Joyce Chen family collection.
  • “Helen Chen Remembers Her Mother,” Lexington Patch, 3 September 2010.
  • “Joyce Chen, 76, Popularizer of Mandarin Cuisine,” New York Times. 26 August 1994 (http://www.nytimes.com/1994/08/26/obituaries/joyce-chen-76-us-popularizer-of-mandarin-cuisine.html).
  • Naomi R. Kooker, “Joyce Chen Brand Seeks Boost from New Product,” Boston Business Journal, 1 May 2006 (http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/stories/2006/05/01/story7.html).