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Huie's Chopsticks Inn to close

The last restaurant in Duluth with family ties to Joe Huie's Cafe will close Aug. 31.

glowing neon sign
The Joe Huie’s Cafe neon sign seen at the Grandma’s Restaurant Canal Park location Friday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — After more than two decades of serving Chinese and American cuisine, Huie's Chopsticks Inn will close its doors.

The popular Central Hillside restaurant located at 505 E. Fourth St. has been a longtime favorite of the community, carrying on traditional family cuisine passed down from the days of the Chinese Lantern and Joe Huie's Cafe .

Chinese restaurant
Customers head into Huie’s Chopsticks Inn seen on Friday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

"A sale is pending, but they've been advised not to make any announcements by their lawyer because no paperwork has been signed yet. No one in the family wanted to take it over," said Wendy Magnuson, an employee who has worked at Huie's Chopsticks Inn for 28 years. "The family is what's kept me here. They're all very nice. I am just very comfortable in the restaurant and they've made it easy to stay. I will miss the customers for sure."

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 Minnesota Historical Society: "Asians in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Joe Huie," Joe Huie immigrated to the United States at age 17 from a rural village in the Taishan District of Guangdong Province in southern China.

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Leaving behind his five brothers, three sisters and a large extended family who farmed rice, potatoes and other vegetables, Huie came to America to work.

He arrived to Duluth in 1909 after connecting with a friend from his village about a dishwashing job at a Chinese-owned restaurant, the St. Paul Cafe. Huie became the cook, manager and eventually a part owner of the business.

Chinese restaurant
The interior of Huie’s Chopsticks Inn seen Friday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

In 1920, he began 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.

Following 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 business.

The Joe Huie Cafe was established in Duluth in 1951. Three years later, his wife and two youngest children arrived in the U.S. Their youngest child was born in Duluth.

One would have to go back a long time to remember when a member of the Huie family didn't have a restaurant in Duluth. It's possible, in fact, that no one is left in Duluth who remembers that day.

The restaurant, well-known for its butterfly shrimp dish, became a landmark of Duluth for 22 years. Duluth musician Brian Dack wrote a song, "Everybody ate at Joe's," referencing the 24/7 cafe with a sign that hung in the door that read: “Lost key, we never close.” The sign later became part of Grandma’s Saloon's memorabilia collection.

Huie retired in 1973 at around 81 years old, according to the MNHS. He placed an ad in the Duluth News Tribune that read: “Lost key found — will now close.”

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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 relocated to the former Duluth Athletic Club at 402 W. First St. (originally the Duluth Commercial Club ) and also opened the Brass Phoenix Night Club in 1976.

Famous characters such as Vice President Walter Mondale, Pearl Bailey and Elvis Presley dined at the Chinese Lantern. The business closed in 1994 after it was destroyed by fire. Shortly after, Joe Huie's nephew, Ping Huie, and his wife, Lee Huie, opened Huie Chopsticks Inn, carrying on the legacy.

This story was updated at 9:05 a.m. Aug. 8 to correct the spelling of Ping and Lee Huie's last name. It was originally posted at 9:18 a.m. Aug. 7. The News Tribune regrets the error.

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Brielle Bredsten is the business reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing & Technical Communication, with minors in Advertising and Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, in addition to a two-year professional paid internship as reporter/editor of the student newspaper.

She is an award-winning professional writer, photographer and editor based in rural Minnesota. Over the past decade, Brielle Bredsten has contributed more than 1,000 articles, feature stories, non-profit press-releases, photographs and columns. Her work has been published in several community newspapers.

Send her story tips, feedback or just say hi at bbredsten@duluthnews.com.
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