Community says goodbye to Wai Eng

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Son Clifford Eng holding his father’s picture.

Seattle paid its respects to community leader Wai Chow Eng last Saturday, Jan. 19, at a service that turned out to be a Chinatown affair. Over 300 people attended to say goodbye to the man who brought Chinese barbecue to Seattle, helped revitalize Chinatown, and loved and cared for his family his entire life.

Eng passed away on Jan. 4 at the age of 83, several months after a fall at his home.

Born in Taishan in Guangdong province, Eng came to the United States at the age of 8, but returned to China with his grandfather a year later to receive a culturally Chinese education. Due to World War II, Eng was not able to return to the United States until 1946 at the age of 17. After graduating from Highline High School, Eng was drafted into the army to fight in the Korean War.

After returning to the States, Eng attended both Seattle University and the University of Washington on the G.I. Bill, but eventually had to stop his studies to help provide for his family members who had come to the United States.

Despite the setback, Eng moved forward. He met the love of his life, Sandra Chinn, in 1953, marrying her only one year later. In 1959, Eng opened Kau Kau restaurant in downtown Seattle, which he operated until 1986.

Realizing that Seattleites had to travel to Vancouver to eat Chinese barbecue, Eng opened Kau Kau BBQ Market and Restaurant in 1974, located at the corners of King and Maynard in Chinatown.

At the urging of his friends, Eng expanded the restaurant business and opened the Korean Ginseng Center in August 1977.

He would also go on to participate in real estate, purchasing the Leyte Hotel in 1978 and renovating it in 1985. Today, it is the Far East Building.

In 1988, he fulfilled a dream by spearheading the purchase, development, and construction of the Eng Suey Sun Plaza for the Eng Family Association.

Amongst attendees were friends Eng made over 70 years ago, fellow restaurateurs, and Chinatown leaders. Linda and Tim Louie of the Tsue Chong Noodles Company, which had provided noodles to Kau Kau since 1974, were in attendance. Also present were Pat Abe, owner of the 7th Ave. Auto Shop, who had serviced Eng’s car for decades; Master John Leong, who keeps his martial arts school above the restaurant; Eng Family Association leaders; and even the owner of Tai Tung Restaurant, Harry Chan, who didn’t see Eng as a competitor, but as a friend and ally.

Doug Lo, whose first job was as a waiter at Kau Kau, remembered Eng as a father figure who had many times given him advice. Five years ago, Eng asked Lo to buy the Far East Building to ensure that it stayed in the community.

Charles Herrman, who has leased space for his law office at the Suey Eng Sun Plaza, said Eng was one of the best men he had ever met in his life.

“He’s a good businessman,” Herrman said. “Easy to work with, generous, and fair.”

Above his business achievements, Eng was a devoted family man. He and his wife, Sandra Chinn Eng, were married for 56 years, until her passing in 2011. Wai is survived by his son, Clifford Eng; daughter, Lynn; son-in-law, Richard; grandchildren, Justin and Kianna; and brothers, Robert and Harry. He is also survived by his “adopted” siblings, Patti Carlson; Holly Finkbeiner, Jim Clifford; and their families. (end)

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Photos on flickr