Friday, November 1, 2019

What Happened To The Chinese Food In Montebello?

I recently stopped by a shopping center on Via Campo in Montebello which I had frequented many times since the 1980s, but have hardly visited at all in the past ten or more years even though it was where my branch of East West Bank has been located for three decades.  It was at this time that I was struck by how this corner of Montebello had changed in that period of time, and not in the way that one would have originally expected.

I have recounted in the past how the seeds of today's Asian American San Gabriel Valley were planted in the 1960s when newly developed residential communities in Monterey Park accepted Japanese and then Chinese American buyers, freeing those groups from housing discrimination that locked them largely into certain neighborhoods in East and South Los Angeles.  As the Asian American population of Monterey Park surged in the 1970s, the Asian presence expanded beyond the city limits of Monterey Park.  Initially this spillover was north and south, i.e. just over the border into Alhambra and the northern part of Montebello.  In the large shopping center on the hill alongside the Pomona Freeway, east of Wilcox, pioneering Chinese restaurants like Kay Hong Garden opened up.  Meanwhile, just to the west on Via Campo between Garfield and Wilcox, pioneering San Gabriel Valley locations of 99 Ranch Market (indeed at the time the store was called 99 Price Market) and East West Bank opened up (though I believe technically Montebello isn't part of the San Gabriel Valley, though that part of Montebello was spirtually part of the SGV).   Next to the 99 Price Market were four restaurant spaces, including early locations of Sam Woo BBQ and Happy Family.

But on this last trip to this center, the only Chinese remnant was the East West Bank branch.  The 99 Price Market, which became 99 Ranch Market, devolved into an independent Chinese market, then an Italian furniture store, and is now ironically a 99 Cents Only store.  And the only Chinese restaurant left literally bears the name Chinese Fast Food and serves sesame chicken and broccoli beef.  Likewise, at what used to be Montebello Town Center mall, where major Chinese restaurants like 888 Restaurant and Sing Sing Dim Sum were located, the only Chinese food at today's Shops At Montebello is a Panda Express.

As things turned out in the 1980s, and continuing to this day, the growing Chinese and Asian American communities expanded eastward, past the San Gabriel Valley itself and past the Los Angeles County line.  And while Monterey Park and Alhambra continue to thrive as part of the Asian enclave, and even though it retains a healthy Chinese residential population, Montebello is the one area that has been culinarily left behind.

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