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Meet the Man Who Brought Chinatown’s Far East Plaza Back to Life

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A conversation about the neighborhood's changing nature

Far East Plaza, Chinatown
Far East Plaza, Chinatown
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

There’s no denying that for years Chinatown’s Far East Plaza was little more than another in a line of quirky, if slightly languid, neighborhood shopping centers, tacked with a couple of worthwhile eating options but nothing too particularly special. That changed almost immediately thanks to Roy Choi moving his Chego operation in, and has continued with the likes of Andy Ricker, Alvin Cailan, and Jack Benchakul (Endorffeine). But there’s one name, George Yu, who’s really behind it all.

LA Downtown News has a profile on the larger Far East Plaza complex, witnessing the rise from Chego in the spring of 2013 to the upcoming Howlin’ Rays Nashville hot chicken shop. The piece spends a bit of time early on with Cailan, an LA native who used to spend time as a child at Far East eating at places like Pho 79 and Sam Woo Barbecue, before revealing Yu as the real originator of the plaza’s rebirth.

Yu is, in essence, the man pulling the strings. Not only does he oversee the Chinatown Business Improvement District, he also works for the company that owns Far East Plaza. He’s in charge of leasing spaces to tenants there, which has made him uniquely qualified (and invested) in seeing the plaza thrive once again. Though he declined to speak to Downtown News for the piece, chef/owners like Andy Ricker describe him as a visionary and leader for the neighborhood at large. Johnny Ray Zone of Howlin’ Rays agrees, saying flatly that Yu has been more than just a businessman — he’s a mentor. "He’s done 40% of our work here," says Zone at one point.

The Downtown News piece also digs into the future of Chinatown, as the still surprisingly inexpensive rent helps to transform the area into a cultural blend of old and new. There’s also an increased desire for housing in the area, and with easy access to Metro there are plenty of developers looking that way. And behind the scenes, much of that information and those business dealings will flow through Yu, the charming but slightly enigmatic man who has helped to change the way much of Los Angeles thinks of one of its oldest neighborhoods.