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Dragon House Restaurant

General Manager Peter T. Kwong said he remembers being a member of the only Chinese family owning the only Chinese restaurant in the area when they opened the Dragon House in 1972.

Much has changed since then. The Kwong family has expanded its tiny eight-table, converted cafe to 150 tables, just as they watched the community around them grow and diversify.

"Diversity is rampant around here," Kwong said. "There are a lot more ethnic restaurants now."

Just as it is a small part of the community's evolution, the Kwongs' restaurant is also one part of the family's larger journey. Kwong moved from Hong Kong to America with his parents, Joseph Wai Kwong and Fee Kon Kwong, and four siblings when he was 8 years old. The culture shock, he remembers, was jarring.

"We didn't speak a word of English," he said. "On the plane we didn't even know how to ask for a glass of water."

They ended up acclimating well to American life in Fridley, Kwong said. His father found a job at Nankin Cafe, an 80-year-old landmark that closed in 1990, and his mother went to work for Kwong's uncle at the Fireside Rice Bowl. But Kwong's parents had always wanted to have their own business so once they had saved up enough money, they purchased the Columbia Heights location and opened Dragon House.

After Kwong earned his business administration degree from the University of Minnesota, he returned to help his parents run the restaurant, keeping the business in the family. Joseph Wai died about 15 years ago, but Fee Kon, 93, can still be seen, and heard, around the kitchen.

"She still keeps people hopping," daughter Maggie Taylor said. "She wants it run her way."

Dragon House knows many of its customers by their first names. Elaine Albertson, 86, has been dining there since it opened. She comes to enjoy her favorite dish — low-salt chow mein, hold the mushrooms — and the peace of the restaurant.

"I call it kind of like a second home," she said.