Huge Tree Pastry is a bit of an anchor in the Chinese restaurant community. The original iteration opened on Atlantic Blvd (Monterey Park) in 1979 under the name "Yi Mei," next to a Din Hao market, and never moved. It did, however, burn down in 2009. The same family then went on to relaunch the concept as "Huge Tree Pastry," and also serve Taiwanese inflected Chinese breakfast, and Taiwanese small eats. Mrs. Liu, the niece of Yi Mei's original owner, chats with Eater about rebuilding, employee loyalty, and why white people are weird. [Note: Above is a shot of Mr. Liu because Mrs. Liu was too shy to be photographed.]
We're so glad you reopened! Our aunt opened Yi Mei in 1979. I worked for the last six years before she retired and sold the restaurant to the new owners (2007 August 30) then it caught on fire. Surely they had insurance, but they didn't want to rebuild. I think they were exhausted by the restaurant. After resting for three years, my husband and I decided to sort of reopen.
What do white people order the most? Curry puffs. (lol!)
For breakfast? That's not Chinese breakfast food. Right? We sell the most sticky rice roll with egg and pickled mustard to the Chinese. Personally, I'd order sticky rice roll, egg crepe, radish cake. Americans have a different palate, that is for sure. Definitely not the same. Beyond that, the radish cake with egg has become very popular at the new restaurant. I don't know why.
I must know, what is the secret in your roasted rice drink? No secret, just a time tested recipe and the proper ratio. Roasted rice, water, sugar, a bit of peanuts. Sometimes, even us professionals goof, and the drink comes out too thin.
And the garlic soy sauce? No secret ingredients? Again, a good ratio of soy sauce, garlic, and water. People love it, even the "lao wai."
Where do you enjoy eating, if not at your restaurant? There's this "tofu bao" [soondubu] place in Arcadia...
Tell us about the Latina in your kitchen who speaks Taiwanese. Ruby has been with us since she was 18. She speaks Taiwanese AND Mandarin. She's amazing! And she learned the recipes so fast. Must have been with us for... she's 35 now? 17 years! And Lisa [the infamous cashier, now also hostess/waitress] has been with us over 10 years. Our staff stays with us for a very long time.
Anything different about Huge Tree vs. Yi Mei? Only the fried crueller recipe was tweaked a bit. When people found us again, they all said everything tastes just like they remembered. The biggest difference, of course, is the expansion. Now we have a lot more sit-down biz, hence the front of house is busier.
The old space was a shoebox. So it was mostly to-go business. People order, we pack, they get food, they leave. Now we get these big parties of college kids.
What makes it a good day at the restaurant? When we get a rush, say on the weekends, and everyone's in the weeds... But all the workers just pull together and push through. That's a very satisfying feeling.
Most important question: Will you stay open for another 20 years? The kids of ABCs need to eat. The older son is a CPA, so no interest there. The daughter... Well, if we can show we're making lots and lots of money? Haha!
·All Chinese Food Week 2011 Coverage [~ELA~]
— Tony Chen