A Taste of the Community with Ming Chan: Owner of Chinatown in Winchester, Virginia

“Knowledge is powerful and the more I know about food, where I get it from, and how to work with it makes me feel good it’s what really drives me. I love to learn and work with things that I don’t know.”

Ming Chan is the owner of Chinatown in Winchester, Virginia. Ming was born in Washington, D.C. after his parents immigrated to the United States in 1968. Chinatown has been in business since 1994 providing the town with authentic Asian cuisines taking advantage of locally sourced products in the area. Ming emphasizes his emotional attachment to the community and it’s members. As the small town of Winchester has grown, so has his menu. The menu began exclusively with Chinese dishes, but now consists of Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and a full sushi bar. This is an authentic experience you won’t want to miss out on.

How long have you been in business for in your location?

“I have been in this location since 1994 after I graduated from Virginia Tech, but prior to that my family has owned restaurants since 1983. So I was kind of born into the restaurant business, I worked in my parents businesses, and when I went away to college I realized that this isn’t what I want to do. The stereotype for Asian families is that the kids will grow up to be a doctor or an engineer, but my senior year in college I realized I want to work in the food business. I love to eat food, I like to entertain, so it was a natural fit for me.”

I’ve been told you also do catering; tell me a little about that.

“We’ve done mostly weddings, I like to cater but there’s a lot of logistics that come along with it. We’ve done all different types of food Asian, Western, Italian, we like to mix it up a little bit.”

What sets you apart from any other Asian restaurant in Winchester?

“For me personally the biggest thing is being a part of this community, and having an emotional attachment to it. I think we have a sense of family here that makes us different from most Asian restaurants in the area. As far as our food we source it, we pay a lot attention to detail, and we try to get food from places that are organic and local. The payoff is great but the season is very short so we can only do it during certain times of the year.”

When you travel, how do you find great food?

“It’s kind of corny but the old saying is when in Rome do as the Romans, and I do believe that to be true when it comes to food too. I check the Internet and I try to Google sites, but I try to ask the locals where do you eat? I try to go places that are traditional and local to the area that I’m visiting.”

Describe a typical day for you at Chinatown:

“Around 8 o’clock I come in turn equipment on, and get the chicken starting to go for the soups. I sit down and try to do some paperwork before the staff comes in. I check on my staff and see how they’re doing, I think it’s important to have a relationship with your staff. I make sure that the buffets setup for lunch, and then I go home to see my family. I come back in the evening and I’ll work through the rush and I’m typically home by 8:30. The restaurant business is tough it’s like you’re married to it.”

What is your passion for food?

“I think it’s a passion for knowledge. Knowledge is powerful and the more I know about food, where I get it from, and how to work with it makes me feel good it’s what really drives me. I love to learn and work with things that I don’t know. If you get a little monotonous when you do the same things over and over again so that’s why I like to experiment and try to push this restaurant to the next level.”

What is your store known for?

“When the restaurant was first opened General Tso’s Chicken was most popular and it still is today. I think that food over the last 10 years has changed, our focus has become more on quality products, and our menu has changed a lot over the past 15 years. If you see what our mission statement is, our restaurant has changed with the community. As the community has slowly become more diverse, so has our menu. We have great fresh sushi, Vietnamese food, I’ve also added more authentic Chinese food such as Scallion Fish or Ma La Beef that are more presented as Chinese food rather than General Tso’s Chicken.”

What was your favorite dish as a child?

“ I love Dim Sum, it’s a style of Cantonese cooking that is served in small bites. Typically it is eaten in the morning and most of the dishes are steamed. I remember going to Chinese restaurants with my family and getting these plates with all these different dumplings on them. It was such a great time being able to eat with my family. Also, a bowl of ramen noodles, obviously not what you get at the store. I can’t really narrow it down to one particular food but my favorite style is Dim Sum. I think they call it little pieces of the heart.”

What is the new trend with home take-out?

“I think that when it comes to consumers and food, people are very smart and conscious. They have different emphasis on quality and being healthy. I think when it comes to carry out people are always looking for alternatives they don’t want to sacrifice quality over freshness. Before when you thought of carryout food it was always pizza or quick Chinese food, but I think now people are willing to get nice carry out rather than to go food which is more considered junk food like a pizza.”

When you’re at home, who cooks? What do you cook?

“We both cook actually, my wife Kelly makes great chicken enchiladas, pasta dishes, meatloaf, all of that comfort food that everyone loves. For me I grill a lot at home, it gives me a chance to be out and it’s outside of something that we normally do in the restaurant. When I’m at home I’m always trying to do something outside of the box something that is out of my comfort level.”

What is your favorite tool you use in the kitchen?

“A Chinese Cleaver, it’s so versatile I can do so much with it. Chop, dice, slice, peel, and mince.”