DULUTH — After more than two decades of Chinese and American cuisine, Huie’s Chopsticks Inn will close its doors.
The popular Central Hillside Restaurant at 505 E. Fourth St. has long been a community favorite, offering traditional home cooking passed down from the days of the Chinese Lantern and Joe Huie’s Cafe.
“A sale is in progress, but their attorney has advised them not to make any announcements because no paperwork has yet been signed. No one in the family wanted to take it over,” said Wendy Magnuson, an employee who worked at Huie’s. Chopsticks Inn for 28 years. “The family is what kept me here. They are all so nice. I’m just very comfortable in the restaurant and they made it easy to stay. I will definitely miss the customers.”
Owner Sheung Fai Lee, 67, of Duluth, died Jan. 27. Ten years ago, Sheung Fai Lee took over the business after his sister, Lee Huie, and her husband, Ping Huie, retired. Ping Huie is the nephew of Joe Huie, owner of the historic Joe Huie’s Cafe on Lake Avenue.
According to the Minnesota Historical Society: “Asians in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Joe Huie”, Joe Huie immigrated to the United States at the age of 17 from a rural village in the Taishan District of the province of Guangdong, in southern China.
Leaving behind his five brothers, three sisters and a large extended family who grew rice, potatoes and other vegetables, Huie came to America to work.
He arrived in Duluth in 1909 after meeting a friend from his village about a dishwasher job at a Chinese restaurant, the St. Paul Cafe. Huie became the cook, manager, and eventually one of the co-owners of the business.
In 1920, he started working at the Arrowhead Cafe while sending money to support his family in Taishan.
From 1933 to 1937, Huie returned to his family in China. He established a small business in Taishan, until it was threatened by the Japanese invasion of the country and he returned to Duluth.
After World War II, Huie traveled to China again to establish a business in Canton, only to return to Duluth in 1948 with his two sons after the Communist victory threatened private businesses.
The Joe Huie Cafe was established in Duluth in 1951. Three years later, his wife and two youngest children arrived in the United States. Their youngest child was born in Duluth.
The restaurant, best known for its butterfly shrimp dish, has become a Duluth landmark for 22 years. Duluth musician Brian Dack wrote a song, “Everybody ate at Joe’s,” referencing the 24/7 cafe with a sign hanging on the door that read, “Lost key, we never close”. The sign later became part of Grandma’s Saloon memorabilia collection.
Huie retired in 1973 at around 81, according to the MNHS. He placed an ad in the Duluth News Tribune that read, “Lost key found – will now close.”
According to Zenith City Press, Joe Huie’s son, Wing Ying Huie, opened the Chinese lantern in 1964 in the Palladio Building on Superior Street. The restaurant later moved to the old Duluth Athletic Club at 402 W. First St. (originally the Duluth Commercial Club) and also opened the Brass Phoenix Night Club in 1976.
Famous people such as Vice President Walter Mondale, Pearl Bailey and Elvis Presley have dined at the Chinese Lantern. The company closed in 1994 after being destroyed by fire. Soon after, Joe Huie’s nephew, Ping Huiem, and his wife, Lee Huiem, opened Huie Chopsticks Inn, carrying on the legacy.