The First Chinese Restaurants In Vermont

What were the first Chinese restaurants in Vermont? 

When I recently consulted the Chinese Commercial Directory of United States, Eastern Section, 1925-1926, it offered listings of the Chinese restaurants and laundries in all of the New England states. For Vermont, there were only 5 listings, including four Chinese laundries and one restaurant, the Star Restaurant at 144 Church Street in Burlington.

I was curious at the paucity of Chinese restaurants in Vermont at that time, so I chose to delve deeper into its history, to seek out the earliest Chinese restaurants in Vermont and also determine if the directory was fully accurate or not. It might have been difficult in 1925-26 to compile information on all of the various Chinese restaurants in New England.  

In the late 19th century, there were numerous articles in the Vermont newspapers about Chinese restaurants and cuisine, primarily referencing restaurants in San Francisco and New York. Some articles repeated the racist allegations that the Chinese were eating rats, cats and dogs, while others were more positive depictions. 

The first Chinese recipe, which appeared in a Vermont newspaper, was in the Springfield Reporter, December 27, 1901. It offered a recipe for Chop Suey, which would feed four people. The basic ingredients included 2 chicken livers, 2 chicken gizzards, 1 pound of pork, a half ounce of green root ginger, and 2 stalks of celery. The directions included sautéing a frying pan with 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of vinegar, a half cup of boiling water, 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, salt, black & red pepper, and a dash of clove and cinnamon. When everything was nearly done, then you were supposed to add a small can of mushrooms, and a half a cup of bean sprouts, French green peas, string beans or asparagus tips. The use of gizzards and livers was most common with the earliest versions of chop suey, and would be omitted in later versions. 

Probably the first Chinese restaurant in Vermont was established in 1909. The Burlington Daily News, November 16, 1909, presented an advertisement for a new Chinese restaurant that opened at 357 North Winooski Avenue. The proprietor was Punk Ennis, who was also known as Percy Ennis. It was interesting to note that the ad said, “All Chinese dishes delivered free.” Free delivery? That certainly sounds like an innovation for those times. 

About five months later, there was serious legal trouble with Percy Ennis. The Rutland Daily Herald, April 26, 1910, reported that the “The ‘Round the World’ club, located at 355 and 357 North Winooski avenue, Burlington, in the Agel block, was raided Saturday evening (April 23), when Percy Ennis, the alleged proprietor, and Cora Abbott, Margaret Grogan, Mabel Guyette and Mrs. George Felmar, white women, were arrested and placed in jail." 

Why were they arrested? The article continued, "The place seemed to be a house of mirth, for some bottles of whiskey, gin, beer, a jug of port wine, a basket of glasses and some playing cards were found, as well as about 50 colored troopers, who were playing cards and disporting themselves otherwise as clubmen are said to do on the stage and in some novels. The soldiers were allowed their liberty. This resort has had an unsavory reputation for some time. The first floor was used as a restaurant and the second floor for a club room. Here, it is said, liquor was sold and white girls congregated.” 

Percy, a black man, had apparently been running a club, above the Chinese restaurant, where illegal liquor and prostitutes were provided. It was said the place had a bad reputation "for some time" and as it was only open for about five months, it might have been Percy's plan from the beginning. Percy and the alleged prostitutes were arrested but the fifty soldiers who were present were permitted to leave without issue. 

The Burlington Daily News, April 25, 1910, noted that Percy was arraigned for selling liquor without authority and for keeping a house of ill repute. Both the cases were continued and Percy was released on a $400 bail. The Barre Daily Times, May 3, 1910, followed up and noted that Percy was found guilty at trial on the first charge and ordered to pay the costs of seizure, $11.19. He was also found guilty of the second charge and sentenced to 90 days in jail. He appealed both charges, paying an additional $100 bail. 

Then Burlington Daily News, September 20 & 22, 1910, reported that on his appeal, Percy was found guilty again on both charges. On the second charge, he was fined $25 and costs, a big difference from the original penalty of 90 days in jail. However, there was also a big change on the penalty of the first charge, as he was sentenced to six months in jail. In addition, Percy was also found guilty on the charge of adultery and fined $100 and costs. This appears to have led to the closure of the Chinese restaurant as it was not mentioned again in the newspapers. 

A month after the first Chinese restaurant opened in Burlington, Chinese food was also available in an unlikely spot. Around November 1907, Chin Kim, a Chinese laundryman in St. Albans, opened a new location at 38 Lake Street. Two years later, the St. Albans Daily Messenger, December 9, 1909, printed an ad for Chin’s laundry, noting that he now sold "Real Chop Suey" on Sundays and Mondays. So you could drop off your shirts and pants for cleaning, and pick up some Chop Suey to take home for dinner. 

This continued for about two years, when the St. Albans Daily Messenger, May 20, 1911, noted that Chin wanted to enter the restaurant business. He purchased the restaurant next to his laundry, and stated that he would close the laundry. The Burlington Free Press, May 22, 1911, added that Chin who had “worked up a small business in chop suey and other oriental dishes and confections, has decided to give up his laundry and devote all his time to the restaurant business.”  

However, something happened, which wasn't explained in the newspapers, and Chin's plans for a restaurant fell through. The St. Albans Daily Messenger, November 18, 1911, mentioned that Chin Kim & Co. had purchased a second-hand store on Catherine Street, which once belonged to Hogan & Hogan. The brief notice mentioned, “Anything in secondhand goods from a pin to an elephant bought and sold.” Chin would maintain this business for several years, and apparently never returned to the restaurant business. 


There were plans to open a Chinese restaurant in Bennington around December 1912, but a fire intervened. The Barre Daily Times (VT), December 12, 1912, reported that a fire in the Hawks block caused about $3000 worth of property damage, and that is where a new Chinese restaurant was set to open. The Bennington Evening Banner, January 28, 1913, followed up that Gaw Sing, who had planned to open the restaurant, at 195 Gage Street, would delay the opening until Saturday, February 1. However, that wouldn't occur.  

Instead, the Bennington Evening Banner, March 14, 1913, noted that Gaw Sing would open a new Chinese laundry at 105 Gage Street. Then, the Bennington Banner, September 8, 1913, mentioned that Gaw’s laundry would also sell Chop Suey every Saturday from 8p-1am, and Sunday, from noon to midnight. This was the second Chinese laundry in Vermont to also sell Chop Suey. 

It's possible that the Chinese in Vermont didn't see a sufficient market for a Chinese restaurant, but that selling Chop Suey from their laundries might help to build a customer base. 

Gaw's plan for a restaurant had simply been delayed, and the Bennington Evening Banner, August 5, 1914, reported that Gaw would open a Chop Suey restaurant on August 9 at 102 Gage Street, next to his laundry. It would only be open 2 days a week, Sunday from 10am-11pm and Monday from 9am-10pm. Again, it seems there weren't enough customers interested in Chinese food to support a full-time restaurant. 

The menu above was included in the ad, with items from Pork Chop Suey (25 cents) to Lobster Chop Suey (30 cents). Lake Qua Beef was the only non-chop suey dish, although there wasn't a description of what it constituted. A couple weeks later, Gaw announced the restaurant would also open on Saturdays, which might have meant his business was doing well.

The Bennington Banner, March 1, 1915, noted Gaw's expansion plans, that his restaurant, on March 7, would now be open every Sunday and evening, and also sold Chinese tea and candy.  Unfortunately, it's unsure how long this restaurant lasted as it wasn't mentioned in the newspaper after this time. Gaw's laundry was mentioned in subsequent years, but not his restaurant. The Bennington Evening Banner, June 16, 1923, reported that a fire destroyed a building on Gage street, where Gaw's laundry was located. There was no mention of the restaurant which had previously been next to the laundry. 

Gaw Sing was not deterred by the property loss, and the Bennington Evening Banner, August 7, 1923, noted that he was opening a new laundry on River Street, below the Hotel Bennington. 

Five years later, the Bennington Evening Banner, December 28, 1928, presented an ad for a new Chinese restaurant, located at 211 River Street, the location of a former laundry. This was probably Gaw's laundry which he had opening back in 1923. The grand opening would be held on Saturday, December 29, with Gaw Sing was the proprietor.   

Only a few months later, the Bennington Evening Banner, March 8, 1929, reported that Gaw's restaurant had been raided twice the day before by the police, seeking evidence of narcotics. On the initial search, two officers didn't find any illegal drugs or liquor. The state attorney wasn’t satisfied with the results, so we accompanied the 2 officers on a second search. The only thing they seized was a bottle of “cold medicine” from China, a medicine Gaw stated was applied to the forehead and nose. The police sent the bottle to Burlington for state analysis. Apparently, this never led to any charges against Gaw. 

However, the restaurant couldn't have done well as it closed in about six months. The Bennington Evening Banner, May 27, 1929, reported that Gaw would change the restaurant back into a laundry on June 1. In April 1947, Gaw died of natural causes, thought to be in his 70s. He had lived in Bennington for over 40 years, and was very well liked.

The Van Ness House, a new hotel, opened in October 25, 1870, and had a restaurant that would eventually serve some Chinese dishes. The Burlington Free Press, July 17, 1913, posted an advertisement for the Van Ness House, which noted, “Come and try some of our new Chinese dishes in our Grill. Chop Suey, Lung Hi in chafing dish, etc.” Who was cooking these dishes?

The Burlington Free Press, August 2, 1915, noted that Charlie Chantis, a “cheery little Greek chef,” made their chop suey, which was “a much-sought-after dish at the roof last season. His recipe for this dish he will not disclose and his remarkable success with it, as well as with the other delicacies which he serves, is no doubt due to his early training in a Paris café.” However, he moved on the next year. 

The Burlington Free Press, June 6, 1916, mentioned that “Charlie Chantis, one of the best known chefs of New England, is now identified with Boston Lunch, where he will serve sea foods of all kinds,…”; The article continued, “One of the specialties for which Mr. Chantis is justly famous is his memorable chop suey, so much sought by patrons of the past.” Chiantis is known as the “original Franco-Grecian chef of Vermont.”

So, the Van Ness had to hire a new chef to make their Chinese dishes, and one of the last advertisements I found was in the Burlington Free Press, May 9, 1918. The Hotel Van Ness Roof Garden and Grill Room noted that their special feature was Chop Suey, “the genuine article—prepared with the best imported ingredients.” 

Again, it seems some Vermonters were interested in Chinese cuisine, but there may not have been a sufficiently large consumer base to support an actual Chinese restaurant. Instead, American restaurants provided a few Chinese dishes, or laundries offered chop suey. 


The Rutland Daily Herald, June 30, 1917, printed that “Rutland is to have a real Chinese restaurant, where chop-suey, rice, tea, cakes, confections and the numerous other dishes peculiar to oriental cooking will be served.” The owner of a Chinese laundry on Center Street had leased the second floor of a building at 19 Center Street, and with a partner would open a Chinese restaurant in July. “The restaurant will be modeled after those in the Chinese quarters of large cities, the furnishings being of oriental pattern, and the establishment will maintain a native chef and service staff.”

As a follow-up, the Rutland Daily Herald July 14, 1917, mentioned that the new “Chop suey house” was set to open in 2 weeks. One of the owners, Jee Dow, who ran a Chinese laundry under the name Quong Sing, would also be the resident manager. He arranged for financing with the E.G. Young corporation, in Boston, and the restaurant would be one of a chain of similar restaurants in various parts of the country.

The restaurant would have a suite of 5 rooms, 4 of medium size and the 5th, considerably larger, would be for the kitchen and cleaning area. The dining room would have room for 7 tables, seating about 30 guests. Dow would be the acting chef, and work with a single assistant.  

Some changes were made before the restaurant opened. The Rutland Daily Herald, August 6, 1917, mentioned that the restaurant would be known as Wah Mee Law, and open on August 11. Lee Dow was now referred to as Yee Den, and he was no longer the planned chef. Charley Gee, of San Francisco, was now the chef. Adding more information, the Rutland Daily Herald, August 13, 1917, mentioned that the restaurant, located at 16 1/2 Center Street, would be open from 11am-Midnight every day. The chef, Charles Gee, used to work at the Hong Kong restaurant in Boston, and the Oakland Hotel, Oakland, California. Both he and Yee Den were natives of California. 

Unfortunately, the restaurant only lasted about six months. The Rutland Daily Herald, February 6, 1918, reported that Wah Mee Law had closed due to lack of business, and the owner decided that the city wasn’t large enough to support a Chinese restaurant. 


Another Chinese restaurant came to Burlington, and it would be one of the only ones during this period to survive for any length of time. The Middlebury Register, March 4, 1921, noted that an option on the Star Restaurant in Burlington had been acquired by 3 Chinese men, including W.J. Toy of Bangor, Maine, W.T. Gong of Portland, Maine, and W.K. Noun, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They would transform it into a Chinese restaurant but would keep the name because of “the ancient and distinguished history of that place.” The article stated, “Nearly all college men for the past 30 years have known the Star as an all-day and all-night meeting place. Some years ago the Star was the only restaurant in the city that was open during the entire night, which no doubt explains the popularity it has had and now has.”

More info on the new owners was provided in the Burlington Daily News, March 15, 1921. It was noted the trio operated a chain of Chinese restaurants in New York, Boston, and the larger cities of New England, such as the Oriental restaurant in Bangor, Maine and the Empire in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The Burlington Daily News, January 14, 1922, presented an ad for the transformed restaurant, noting it was "Burlington’s only Chinese restaurant." Located at 144 Church Street, the restaurant would be open from 11am-midnight. The restaurant would last for about 25 years, with only brief mentions in the newspapers, and not much of import. 

The end! The Burlington Free Press, April 29, 1947, printed that the Star Restaurant would change its name and management, becoming the Lotus Restaurant Corporation. It would reopen on May 1, serving Chinese and American cuisine.  

W. J. Toy would help to open a second Chinese restaurant in Vermont, in Rutland. The Rutland News, July 7, 1922, reported the new restaurant would open in the Finn and Lalor block on Center Street. He took out a lease for 10 years on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building. The restaurant would seat about 125 people and all of the cooking would be done on the 3rd floor. The restaurant hoped to open in August, though that date would be pushed back a month. 

The Rutland News, September 2, 1922, mentioned that the new restaurant would open on Monday, September 4. It would seat about 150 people, which included 9 private dining rooms which each could seat 6 people. 

The Rutland Daily Herald, September 6, 1922, published an ad for the new Oriental Restaurant, which would be open from 9am to midnight, serving American and Chinese dishes. 

The Rutland Daily Herald, September 13, 1922, printed a different ad for the Oriental Restaurant, which was located at 15 1/2 Center Street. There was a Business Men’s Lunch, available for 50 cents from 11am-2:30pm. The ad also noted, “Chinese food prepared to take home with you.” Take-out Chinese!

Still another advertisement in the Rutland News, November 2, 1922. There would be additional ads in the newspapers up to February 1923. 

It's unclear what happened to the Oriental Restaurant after February 1923. The Rutland News, March 19, 1925, had an ad for The Chinese Restaurant, at 15 ½ Center Street, the former location of the Oriental Restaurant. Was the restaurant sold? Was just the name changed? Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any additional information on the change. I'll note that this restaurant was still in operation at least up to 1944. 

Another restaurant offering a few Chinese dishes on their menu. The Brattleboro Reformer, October 14, 1924, printed an ad for The Colonial, which “announces that Chinese dishes are now a regular feature on our menu card." The dishes included Chop Suey, Chow Mein, and Fried Chicken Chinese Style. The Brattleboro Reformer, October 31, 1924, had a larger ad for The Colonial;, which stated, “For the evening dinner we suggest a planked steak with all the fixings; or one of our Chinese dishes which we have recently added to our menu and which have become unusually popular.” Ads for this restaurant would continue through 1925.  

The Montpelier Evening Argus, December 31, 1924, had a large ad with menu for the City Café; promoting their New Year’s Day dinner, which was 75 cents. The ad stated, “We specialize in Chinese dishes.” I couldn't find much else about this restaurant.

The Barre Daily Times December 15, 1926, printed ad for Miller’s Inn in Montpelier, which was the “only Chinese Dining room in this locality." The ad also stated, “Special attention given to orders to be taken out.” Take-out Chinese food seemed to be a popular idea in Vermont during this period. 

The Bennington Evening Banner, January 15, 1929, had an ad for a new Chinese restaurant at 211 River Street. It presented its menu of American and Chinese dishes, including various Chop Suey dishes, Chicken Chow Mein, Foo Young Eggs, Pork Chops; Small Steak, Porterhouse, Hamburg Steak, and Fried Chicken. 

Then, the Barre Daily Times, May 24, 1930, mentioned the re-opening the Wells Cafe on May 24, which would serve American and Chinese cuisine, with William Jo as its chef. The Barre Daily Times, May 28, 1930, noted this was Barre’s first Chinese restaurant and that chop suey and chow mein could be had for take-out. It didn't last long though as the Barre Daily Times, October 17, 1930, reported that the Well’s Café had re-opened under new management as Morse’s Cafe.  

Finally, the Barre Daily Times, May 15, 1930, presented a large ad for the Grand Opening of The Grill, in the renovated former quarters of the Boston Café. They would serve Chinese and American dishes, including chop suey, chow mein, and egg foo yong.  In addition, the Barre Daily Times, May 16, 1930, mentioned that The Grill would be opened by Harry Stroutsos, who would cook the American food. William Jo, of Providence, Rhode Island, would cook the Chinese cuisine, as he had 10 years experience in large restaurants in Boston, Providence, and Fall River.

This article covered the first thirty years of the 20th century in Vermont, noting the first Chinese restaurants which opened. It was difficult for many of the Chinese restaurants to make a profit, so a number of them closed within six months to a year of their opening. There didn't seem to be a sufficient customer base in many places to support a restaurant. A couple restaurants lasted at least for 20 years, generally in the larger cities. It was interesting that two Chinese laundries had a side gig selling chop suey. 

Do you have a favorite Chinese restaurant currently in Vermont?
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