Ming’s Restaurant was a wildly popular
Chinese American restaurant in the Weequahic section of Newark,
New Jersey during the late 1950’s, 60’s and early ‘70’s.
It was located on the corner of Lyons Avenue and Clinton Place and
the building still stands today although under a different ownership.
I’m writing this in response to the many Newark Memories people
who have responded to my original article on Newark and made many
kind comments about Ming’s. Please Enjoy.
Long before I knew what a job was, I would hear my older cousins
talking about how hard they would work at the family’s restaurant.
Puzzled, I asked my mother if I would someday work at the restaurant,
thinking it was some kind of family tradition. She looked at me
and smiled, “Only if you want to” she said. I had heard
stories in the family of the humble beginnings of Ming’s.
How it all started in a small, one stove store that could only seat
8 people at the most and how it proceeded to grow into a huge monster
of a business that overtook a neighboring furniture store once it
closed. I have no personal memories of those times because those
days were way before my time.
During my childhood I remember going over to my cousin Robert’s
house to play and seeing the various restaurant workers going about
their chores because my cousin’s house was located at the
back of the restaurant. There were four garages in the back and
the last two garages were taken over by the restaurant and converted
into a storage facility for all the food and supplies that were
required to keep the restaurant in business. It had a large walk-in
refrigerator in the left corner that housed all the perishable foods
while the rest of the garage stored canned items and non-perishable
items that were neatly placed on shelving or stacked upon themselves
on cardboard squares cut from the boxes that the supplies came in.
There was a constant hum of activity between the back door of the
restaurant which led to the main kitchen and the supply garage during
the busy hours. During our days of playing we would occasionally
catch various people prepping different things in the open air of
the backyard or sometimes in the kitchen. One of my favorite memories
is one of watching my grandfather prepping orders of spare ribs
in a large container filled with his own personal mixture of hoisin
sauce, water, herbs and spices that only he knew how to brew. He
would dip a slab of ribs in the container and let it soak in the
mixture for a period of time, his hands and arms red with juice
of the marinade. Then he would take the ribs out and hang them in
a large rotisserie oven that had a pan of water at the bottom. He
explained that the juices from the meat from the heat of the oven
would drip into the pan that was heated and the vapors from it would
smoke or marinate the ribs with flavor.
I would often go to the back door of the restaurant to say hello
to family and whatever co-workers were around at the time. Sometimes
they would be too busy to talk and would give me a quick hello and
then return to what they were doing. As you looked in the door there
were four cooks tending large woks line up against the right hand
wall. Beyond that there was a deep fryer for the egg rolls and whatever
else needed to be fried. Next was a rotisserie type of oven that
was used for marinating the spare ribs and finally there was the
gas fired grill that was used to cook the spare ribs until done.
Adjacent to this grill was a table where the spare ribs were cut
up and packed in a stiff bag that had aluminum like material on
the inside and red Chinese writing on a white background on the
outside. All take out orders for ribs originated here as well as
orders for the main dining room. In back of the cooks was an immense
stainless steel steam table that housed various menu items such
as Wonton Soup, Egg Drop Soup, Chow Mein and assorted other dishes
some of which I never knew their names. Above the steam table was
a stainless steel shelf for the transfer of food between the waiters
and the cooks.
To the immediate left of the back door was a storage place for
all the condiments that was used by the chefs and then a small walk-in
refrigerator that housed the more popular perishable items on the
menu. Adjacent to the walk-in refrigerator were a series of 6 large
stainless sinks arranged in an “L” configuration which
jutted out into the middle of the room and framed a large utility
bench that was used to make anything from egg rolls to fortune cookies.
The large stainless steel sinks were used to wash all the dishes
of the restaurant. The rest of the kitchen was devoted to various
things like coffee, tea, soda, dishes, utensils, napkins, boxes
and bags for the take out orders, ice cream and the storage of items
like Fortune and Almond cookies. It was the job of the waiters to
know where everything was and resupply the things that ran low.
Two large black swinging doors separated the kitchen area from the
main dining room. One was the “in” door to the kitchen
and the other was the “out” door to the dining room.
There was no collision of waiters that were hurriedly doing their
jobs to the best of their abilities. Sometimes these doors would
swing open with a lot of force during the busy hours of lunch and
dinner but the layout of the kitchen was so that nothing was placed
in the way to impede this progress. The waiters would come flying
in the door screaming out their orders in Chinese, dump some things
off, pick up a few things and be out the door into the dining area
in a matter of minutes.
If you had ever been to Ming’s, you would know that the
main entrance was on Lyons Avenue through double wide doors. As
you entered, to your immediate left would be the cashier counter
that also housed the candy and after dinner treats for the customers.
If you had walk straight in the front door and kept walking you
would end up near the restrooms. After the cashier counter the maitre
d’ would guide you to your left and you would go down two
steps into the enormous main dining room area. I don’t remember
how many people could be seated in the main dining room but I would
guess it to be about at least a 100 people, if not more. The building
was formerly a furniture store so I’ll leave it to your imagination.
On weekends, I would remember seeing the people lining up waiting
to get in and the line would go down the entire block. Since it
was at least a half an hour wait or more from the end of the line,
I realized very early on that Ming’s was an extremely popular
In school, my teachers would always corner me in some way and
start talking about Ming’s perhaps trying to get a free meal
out of the deal. I don’t know if that was true but that’s
what it seemed like to me. Even people I didn’t know would
come up to me and start talking about the restaurant. When they
asked questions, I would tell them what I knew from what I observed
but little else, after all, I was still in elementary school!!!
A few times in the winter, I would ask my grandfather if I could
shovel the snow from the front of the restaurant and get paid. He
would always agree and paid me well. I was probably paid much more
than I should have gotten paid had I been someone else. Family was
always taking care of family and it was always a tightly knit family.
But it wasn’t until my high school years that I looked upon
the restaurant as a means to get some serious spending money. All
my older cousins were now out of the restaurant and into their own
adult lives. They had no need to work in the restaurant any longer
because most of them had much higher paying jobs. This left only
me and the cousins who were approximately the same age as me to
work the “little” jobs in the restaurant.
As it came to pass my cousin Robert and I were elected to work
together packaging the take out and dining room orders for the spare
ribs and egg rolls on Sundays. Little did we know how busy this
corner of the restaurant would be! I remember that we both loved
the spare ribs so much and would playfully fight over the bits that
were left after I cut the ribs up. After a while we would each have
our own stash of ribs at the end of the night. My uncle used to
stop by the corner to playfully say “Hey kids, don’t
eat up the profits” and walk away laughing along with everyone
else in the kitchen. Unfazed we would put every unused piece of
rib in our bags to be savored later on at home. There were times
when I was constantly cooking slabs of ribs on the grill and resupplying
the deep fryer with a ton of egg rolls It would get quite hot in
this portion of the kitchen but I never seemed to mind. My most
vivid memory was an order of spare ribs that a customer ordered
well done. I cooked them until they were a little blackened and
then sent them out to the dining room. They immediately came back
and I was told to totally blacken them. I did this and to my amazement,
the customer loved it! I never figured that one out because by the
time the meat was blackened like that it was almost like eating
charcoal!! At the end of the night, my grandfather would come over
and pay us kids and we would go home with a smile on our faces.
We quickly forgot all the oddities and struggles that the long day
presented to us.
Much to my surprise when it came to dinner time for the kitchen
workers, the restaurant food was usually off limits. My grandmother
would cook up some “real” Chinese food that usually
included fish and rice with some kind of vegetable in it. Some of
it was good but most of it was not to my taste back then and many
times my cousin and I would opt out and eat a slab of ribs with
an eggroll and some rice. My grandmother would find this eating
habit horrible and she would say something in Cantonese to us which
we did not understand and walk away from us with a disgusted look
on her face. I remember asking my cousin if he understood what she
had just said and he would just shrugged his shoulders and say “Don’t
worry about it”. A lot of the waiters were bilingual and spoke
fluent Cantonese. They would try to teach us it over the course
of the night and when they finally realized that we just weren’t
interested in learning the language, they shook their heads in disbelief.
If this wasn’t a culture clash, I don’t know what else
to call it!!! Looking back, it was a golden opportunity to become
more involved in my Chinese heritage and I often regret this lack
of interest shown by my cousins and me. I guess we were just happy
to be considered Americans living in a wonderful Jewish/Italian
neighborhood of Newark!!! I hope you enjoyed this insider’s
look at the inner workings of the restaurant called Ming’s!
Thanks for all your kind comments!
Ralph J. Chin