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Kathleen Murphy column: Duluth loses restaurant family legacy

Huie’s Chopsticks Inn will permanently close Aug. 31. When it does, the city will be without a Huie-owned or -operated restaurant for the first time in at least a century.

Chinese restaurant
Customers head into Huie’s Chopsticks Inn in Duluth on Aug. 5.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — One would have to go back a long time to remember when a member of the Huie family didn’t own or work in a restaurant in Duluth.

It’s likely, in fact, that no one is left in Duluth who remembers that day. The person who remembered this would have to be over 100 years old.

Kathleen Murphy.jpg
Kathleen Murphy

Most Duluthians remember the Chinese Lantern, but some remember even further back to Joe Huie’s Cafe, a small diner near the corner of Lake Avenue and Michigan Street that opened in the early 1950s.

It’s not widely known, however, that the Huie family has been in Duluth even longer than that. There is some debate as to when Joe Huie first immigrated to Duluth, with dates ranging from 1909-1925, but records show he came to Duluth from China to work for a relative who owned and operated a downtown Duluth restaurant called the St. Paul Restaurant. I couldn’t find any evidence that pointed to the relative being a Huie as well, but if they were, there has been a Huie-operated restaurant in Duluth since the late 1800s — almost 125 years.

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

By 1951, Joe Huie was ready to open his own establishment. He served both American food and Chinese food, but the most famous dish was the jumbo butterfly shrimp. Joe Huie’s Cafe closed when the Metropole Hotel next door was demolished. Fans of the food weren’t left craving, as his son, Wing Ying Huie, had already opened the Chinese Lantern on the corner of Superior Street and Fourth Avenue West, where Maurices headquarters stands now.

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The Chinese Lantern was arguably the most popular restaurant in Duluth when disaster struck. It caught fire Jan. 16, 1994, and the family decided not to rebuild after the fire, instead taking the opportunity to retire.

Duluth was not left Huie-less, however. Soon after the fire, Huie's nephew, Ping Huie, and his wife, Lee, opened Huie’s Chopsticks Inn on Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue East. There it remains to this day, still offering the same jumbo butterfly shrimp, among other favorites, to a grateful Twin Ports.

Huie’s Chopsticks Inn will be permanently closing Aug. 31 so its owners can retire. When it does, Duluth will be without a Huie-owned or -operated restaurant for the first time in a century, maybe longer.

Chinese Lantern - fried shrimp.jpg
The fried shrimp recipe from the Huie family is served at Huie's Chopsticks Inn in Duluth. It is the same recipe used by the Chinese Lantern and Joe Huie's Cafe.
Kathleen Murphy / File / Duluth News Tribune

That is a long time. I don’t think we’ve appreciated how long this family has been a Duluth staple.

Restaurants come and go, of course. This is the way of the world. Even in the oldest of Middle Eastern countries, where modern civilization as we know it began, it is unusual to find a restaurant that is over a century old, though a restaurant in Austria, the St. Peter Stiftskulinarium , is speculated to have been in operation since AD 803, earning the title of oldest operating restaurant on the planet.

Still, our Huie legacy goes long and strong, even though it ran over several restaurants. Just to reminisce, I went to Huie’s Chopsticks Inn for lunch last week. They stand proudly on their own, their decor giving no indication of their long family legacy. It’s the food that gives them away. They still offer the same jumbo fried shrimp recipe that Joe made in the 1950s at his corner diner, and several of their dishes reminisce of the Chinese Lantern.

Most of the menu has been created by Ping and Lee. As I said, they proudly stand on their own, and have since they opened decades ago. I realize that by the time this goes to print, Huie’s Chopsticks Inn will have a few mere days remaining, or might be closed already if they run out of food (as the helpful staff informed me could happen). But I encourage everyone to go and experience the food one last time, if they are able.

It’s an experience over a century in the making.

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Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. You can reach her at kmurphywrites@gmail.com .

Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth.
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