Beijing Duck and the Pandemic: The story of Chicago’s iconic Sun Wah BBQ

Presented by Kelly Cheng, co-owner and general manager


Times certainly have been challenging for our nation’s restaurants during these pandemic times. Come join us as Kelly Cheng tells her savory story of her family’s iconic restaurant and its place in Chicago’s culinary history. Kelly will also regale us with the story of Chinese barbecue and the secret of preparing Beijing duck. And she will share how she and her family and their business have struggled through and survived the pandemic.

A bit of history: Sun Wah BBQ started its journey in New York’s Chinatown where it was crammed into a storefront hardly wider than nine lengths of roast ducks. Its founder, China-born Eric Cheng, continually refined his skills as a Hong Kong style barbecue chef. While Sun Wah did well, it was still “a crowded fish yearning for larger oceans,” Kelly Cheng said. Eric and wife Lynda took their four toddlers to Chicago and made their dream grow.

In the spring of 1987, they opened Sun Wah BBQ in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, a few doors away from the Argyle Redline Station. Over the next two decades, Sun Wah BBQ accumulated a legion of enthusiastic diners and the restaurant helped transform the neighborhood. The children became fixtures on weekends and holidays, learning the fundamentals that would help them ultimately expand their parents’ heart and soul.

In 2018, they received America’s Classics award from the James Beard Foundation.

By September 2008, three of the four children (Kelly, Michael, and Laura) grasped the baton to lead Sun Wah BBQ into its next phase.

Each had been developing skills that would feed into the continued success of the restaurant. Kelly earned her MBA from DePaul University, Michael followed his father’s teachings on mastering Chinese BBQ, and Laura completed her degree from the Kendall College of Culinary Arts.

In 2009, Sun Wah moved around the corner to 5039 N Broadway, an historic building, four times the size of their Argyle restaurant. The Chengs were now able to showcase Chinese barbecue to the max, with their star dish, Beijing Duck, winning national acclaim. Kelly will give us a look at how this delicacy is made and carved at tableside. Quite a show indeed!

(Warning: Attending this Zoom program may cause intense hunger pangs.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2021
7:00 pm Central Time

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