By Becky Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
The transition was easy. Isaac Cheng didn’t need to remove any purple and gold décor inside his office at Tsue Chong, the colors of the University of Washington (UW). He is a UW graduate. So is Tim Louie, the fourth-generation former owner of the iconic fortune cookie and noodle factory in the Chinatown-International District (CID). The Cheng family bought the factory from the Louie family in June.
Camillo and Isaac Cheng, father and son, are president and vice president, respectively, of SAVr, LLC. Prior to acquiring Tsue Chong, SAVr contracted other food manufacturers to make products for them.
The Chengs once owned Golden Pheasant Foods (GPF) on 12th and Weller streets in the CID, which manufactured similar product lines—cookies, noodles, and wonton wrappers—as Tsue Chong, until they sold GPF to California’s Passport Food Group in 2012.
“We were friendly competitors,” Cheng commented on GPF’s relationship with Tsue Chong.
Cheng’s grandparents were from Beijing, China. His father Camillo was born in Taiwan, grew up in Malaysia, and moved to the United States after high school to attend college.
Camillo met his wife, Sarah, on a blind date, after they both graduated from the UW. Sarah is a Washingtonian from Ellensburg. The couple had two boys and a girl. Isaac is the eldest.
Besides the Huskies’ purple and gold, entrepreneurship runs in their blood. Isaac’s sister Annie is the CEO, “Chief Eating Officer,” of a culinary-focused tour company, The Table Less Traveled.
Younger brother Alex is the “black sheep,” not being a UW graduate. He attended the UW, but transferred to West Point Military Academy. He cross-commissioned into the Navy after graduation and is an EA-18 Growler pilot, stationed nearby on Whidbey Island.
Born in the Seattle area, Isaac spent his formative years on the Eastside. In the 1990s, Camillo bought GPF, which provided Isaac summer jobs during high school. Isaac studied business at the UW, worked management consulting in the San Francisco Bay area for a few years, then moved back to the Seattle area 5 or 6 years ago.
The opportunity to purchase Tsue Chong was timely.
“My father sold Golden Pheasant and helped with the transition for a while, but then struck out on his own. He was looking for an opportunity to get back into manufacturing when Tim called.”
“Yeah, it’s bittersweet with 102 years of family history in Tsue Chong. The Rose Brand is in good hands with the Chengs. They’ll continue the legacy.” Louie said.
Tim’s great-grandfather Gar Hip started making noodles with a hand-cranked machine and sold them freshly wrapped in newspapers in Seattle around 1917. When Gar Hip retired, his son, Fat Yuen, and wife Eng Shee ran the business. They then passed it onto their sons Kenneth and Henry, Tim’s uncle and father, respectively.
The Rose Brand was established as the business grew. “My grandfather liked to grow red roses,” Louie recalled.
Tsue Chong produces 80,000 fortune cookies and 17 kinds of noodle products a day, selling under the Rose Brand locally in Washington and distributing regionally to restaurants in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon.
Cheng is grateful for all the connections Louie has helped him make. “Continuation of the legacy is important,” he said. “The transition would not be successful without their knowledge.”
“The only change is the ownership. Everything is still the same—the employees, the machines, and the products,” Louie said. “The Chengs have some good ideas that I’ll help implement.” He said he’ll stay at Tsue Chong as long as he’s needed.
“The company’s been making high quality products for years,” said Cheng. “Retaining the people who make them is the goal. And to continue the workers’ legacies, to pass on their knowledge, so there’ll be stability and resilience.”
Cheng noted some changes in the process and modernization will come, such as in food safety regulations and technology. “It won’t be easy to implement, but we need to balance risks with change,” he said. He is cognizant of the impact on his employees, many have worked under the Louie family for decades.
One of them is Li Ming Li, who has been with Tsue Chong for 28 years. Li immigrated to the United States from Guangzhou and works in the front office.
When asked which restaurants in CID use Tsue Chong’s products, Li replied, “Every restaurant here uses our noodles because they taste so good.” She is biased for obvious reasons.
“What about the noodle shop down the street?”
“Oh, no, not that one,” Li said.
“Not yet,” Cheng chimed in.
“Living with a commitment to excellence shall take you far.”-Fortune cookie
Becky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.