By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
One of the most powerful leaders in the Chinese community from the 1970s-2000s and founder of the original Sun Ya Restaurant in the early 1970s, Sunny Lew, died on Nov. 29 at the age of 90. His wife, Jayne, of 54 years, died three months prior.
The cause of his illness was old age and grief, according to some Bing Kung Tong (BKT) fraternal members.
Arriving in the U.S. in the 1960s, Lew worked his way up in different Chinatown restaurants as a waiter and chef. He was known to make dim sum.
As one of the biggest restaurants in the Chinatown-International District (CID), Sun Ya has changed hands three times since Lew retired. Its bar is still a favorite for old timers and sports fans on game days. Currently, the restaurant operation has been leased to Golden Star Restaurant.
Founded in the early 1970s, Sun Ya was one of the earliest restaurants to serve dim sum in the CID. An entrepreneur, he started his restaurant on South King Street and 6th Avenue South.
Later, Lew bought all seven little stores together in a corner lot of South Weller Street and 7th Avenue South for $80,000 to create one big restaurant with a parking lot, said Mun Woo, who was a waitress for decades at Sun Ya.
Friends told him, “That’s risky to open such a big restaurant. You have too much guts. That’s a gamble and you will lose.”
“I have no fear,” he replied. “I need to launch my business.”
The new Sun Ya was opened in 1975, and it was considered one of the most beautiful Chinese restaurants then. It hosted many big events, including the first celebration of the People’s Republic of China national day in the late 1970s.
Lew will be remembered as a staunch supporter of China before the majority of old timers were ready to accept China. Chinatown was pro-Taiwan then.
He and his wife had no children. Elected president many times, he devoted his time and energy to BKT, and led the organization to change its stance from being pro-Taiwan to pro-China, and displayed the Chinese flag on the BKT building in the 1980s.
Lew visited China several times since then and donated lots of funds to build a road named after him in his native village and a radio station. He also hosted many Chinese government officials in Seattle. He met the most powerful Chinese leaders, including Premier Deng Hsiao Ping, President Hu Jintao, and President Xi Jinping in Seattle.
He was also the president of the United Chinese Association, which helped new Chinese immigrants who had a tough time getting visas to visit their native land. The association organized an event for visa applicants to meet with San Francisco Chinese officials in Seattle to get their visa processed.
Francis Wong, a former BKT president, said while carrying China’s flag, Lew accompanied Chinese officials to visit all the community organizations door-to-door. His devotion to China was unquestionable.
The Lew couple is survived by a goddaughter in Seattle.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. on Dec. 17 at the Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church at 3001 24th Ave. S., Seattle. For more information, contact Bing Kung Tong.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.