The Chicago Chop Suey Building Mystery

August 30, 2020  •  7 Comments

A few years back my daughter and I were driving up the coast to San Francisco.  Along the way we found ourselves on the streets of Guadalupe Ca, a small town about a hundred and fifty miles from Los Angeles.  Driving around town we came upon this sweet little oddity of a place, the Chicago Chop Suey building.  I loved it in an instant and we pulled over so I could shoot this picture.  And because I am who I am I tried to find out more about the place from the neighbors but...nothing.  So this picture languished, having no purpose to call it to life but too sweet to delete.

We all make pictures like this, pictures made for no particular purpose except they call to you and you respond.  In an Instagram world the easy answer is to post it and move on but I am looking for something more.  Not more from the picture but from myself.  I think part of being a photographer is to think about the pictures you make, not just to make them.  So I am.

It occurs to me this picture calls me because I am from Chicago.  And it calls to me because Chop Suey was the Chinese food of my youth.  And the thirties lettering style and the older architecture feed my nostalgia while the closed door and drawn shades speak of mystery.  The signs on the windows say "Please do not lean your bicycles on the building. Thank you"  The one on the fence says "Please do not lean your bicycles on the fence. Thank you"......but why?  Was there an epidemic of bicyclists in this part of town piling their bicycles everywhere without regard?  Did something already happen the owner wants to prevent from happening again?  The fire hydrant, a Jones by the way, sits inches above the curb...why, why was it too much trouble to install it flush with the cement?

I can go on...but enough, I get it.  Like every picture, with careful study this one reveals details I never see in real life.  One beauty of a photograph is that the more you look at it the more it reveals.  Sometimes that opens up more questions than it be it.

Before posting this I decided to explore on the web a little and see what I could find.  Of Guadalupe, Wikipedia told me that "Some of the small town businesses include El Tapatio, and Guadalupe Restaurant serve traditional Mexican food. For a quick bite you can get pizza at Two Guys Pizza, a burger at King Falafel and Charlie's Place, Chinese Food at Panda Sticks, or tacos and burritos Romo's Market. Groceries can be bought at La Chiquita market and Masatani's Market. There is a hardware store called The Guadalupe Hardware Company, Napa Auto Parts, two tire shops, an auto body shop, and three auto mechanic shops in town. Etc, etc,"...........nothing!

A picture on Google search showed me the restaurant has been there unchanged since 2006 but just looking at the building had already told me that.  A search for Chicago Chop Suey, Guadalupe, CA revealed "According to a map showing the locations of Japanese American-owned businesses in 1940, this was originally New York Chop Suey. The building was constructed in 1926." and that led me to a map entitled Guadalupe Japanese American Businesses 1940.  It shows a thriving community of Japanese businesses.  Where had they all gone?  And then I connected that with what I had read on the Wikipedia page.  That the current population of the town was 86 percent Latin American and that there were very few Asians.

I'll spare you all the twists and turns that followed.  The Japanese of Guadalupe were removed in 1942 and settled in internment camps.  After the war it seems few came back.  So a casual photograph of a little building teaches me about a place where history happened.  It reminds me of the buildings I saw in Stawiski Poland and the story it opened up for me there ( ).  Maybe I'll go back to Guadalupe and see what else there is to see.


My parents took my brothers and I to Bud Wong's all the time ass kids. I always hoped they'd make a come back. They made the best Chinese food in my opinion. On the rare occasion I drive by the original building that now has King Falafel, I feel nostalgic and saddened. I never got to try Chicago Chop Suey because it was never open when I went to check it out.
My aunt is Toy Wong.She married my grandmother’s brother, Bud Wong. She owns the building that used to house the restaurant Chicago Chop Suey which was owned by my great aunt. We’re Chinese. Both my grandmother & grandfather were born in Guadalupe. We have an elementary school photograph of my grandmother - it is her ( I believe the only Chinese student) and all her Japanese classmates in matching bob haircuts.
My family ate at Bud Wong's NY Cafe (the name I remember) in the '60s. Excellent Chinese food. Good portions, lots of almonds, tasty.
My father was stationed at VAFB.

We also ate at the original Hitching Post that was either in Guadalupe or very close.
I grew up in Guadalupe and I’ll dispense what little info I know. My father said there was a lot of Chinese before the Japanese and Chicago Chop Suey used to be run by Bud and Toy Wong until the 60s. About that time Bud and Toy opened Bud Wong’s New York style Chinese restaurant in the brick building next door. I’m not sure when Bud passed away but Toy ran it for as long as I can remember. As a kid our family ate at Bud Wong’s frequently. During lunch you would often see the police chief, Fire chief, mayor, and local business owners at Bud’s. Later I left for college and eventually the building owner sold the building to someone else. The new owner raised the rent which kind of pushed Toy into retirement. Sad to see. Now every time I pass through town I reminisce of lunch with my grandfather and dinner with my family. I’ve never eaten at falafel king maybe as a way to preserve my memories or the slight anger at the perceived destruction of Bud Wong’s. Oh well nothing is forever. I believe Toy is still around obviously older and from what I understand she still may live in the Chicago Chop Suey building. Very few will understand but: Toy I missed your cheeseburgers!
Paul 0'Malley(non-registered)
Thanks for your research , I have a picture of this too because my dad always told me that my hair looked like"Chicago Chop Suey"
When I was young, he said it when my hair was messy, but he never brought any home so that I could understand his insult , your dad was nicer and this place brings you good memories while it brings me the opposite , please pray that I could do something new with my hair before I see my dad at Christmas, thanks, DJ Paul O
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