A Family Affair
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If the family that plays together stays together, then what does the family that works together do? Well, if it’s the Wongs, who own and operate On On at McCully Chinese Restaurant — the answer is they ultimately succeed together.
Cowan, 77, and Faith Wong, 65, with the help of son Norman and daughter Julia, have been devoting endless amounts of time and energy to this family restaurant for more than 31 years. On On first opened its doors in Kapahulu in 1980 before relocating to the current location in McCully in 2000.
“Being that this is a family business, I think it’s helped with the success of the restaurant because everyone is helping each other out and everyone more or less gets along,” says Norman, who serves as manager of On On at McCully.
Julia, however, will soon manage Duck Yun Chinese Restaurant, another family eatery in Aina Haina Shopping Center, which is currently undergoing renovations and will reopen in February.
“If you work, you might as well work for a family business; make the money for the family,” she explains. “My father thought of all the menu items at both restaurants, and it’s great to focus our time around our business but still be with family every day.”
Cowan is originally from Guangzhou, while Faith was born in Hawaii, but later moved to Hong Kong. Together they’ve always had a passion for food and the drive to succeed, and three children later (Norman, Julia and Cynthia), they took it upon themselves to invest in a “fourth child” — and from there On On was born.
“Our parents, they’re very hard-working and have been working since they were teenagers. They’re very dedicated to what they do and it’s what they live for,” says Norman, who has been lending a hand at the family restaurant since his high school days.
“My parents have always been active in the food and beverage industry,” he adds. “My mother was a waitress when she was 15 at McCully Chop Sui, and then she worked her way up the ranks before working at China House. It just seemed like a natural progression because my mother had a lot of restaurant experience. My father worked for a noodle factory and can cook really well.”
Cowan worked as head chef of On On for years before relinquishing the wok and tongs to executive chef Min Hong Lee. And with more than 200 items on the menu, Lee is busier than ever.
“We infuse a local flair to Chinese food,” Norman states, adding that the restaurant caters to mostly locals who particularly love kao yok and char siu.
Customers also gravitate toward the Peking Duck with Steamed Buns ($18, half; $35, whole); House Special Noodle ($9.95), a crispy noodle with seafood, chicken and assorted vegetables; and Shrimp with Pepper Salt ($11.95), which consists of lightly fried shrimp sauteed with scallions, chopped red pepper and other savory spices.
“It’s a bit spicy, but you can eat the whole thing — the tail, the shell, everything — the shell has the most flavor,” Norman attests.
“We serve everything family-style, from Cantonese to some Northern Chinese cuisine, and other signature dishes are the Beef Broccoli ($9.95), Shrimp Canton ($11.95) and Ginger Chicken ($9.95).”
Julia adds, “People love the ginger chicken, and the cake noodle is also very good and you can have it with a variety of toppings. Sometimes I do beef tomato on top of cake noodles.”
And for the dim sum diner in you, a handful of these a la carte options can be ordered off the menu as well, including manapua, jin dui, egg tarts and shumai.
“Jin dui and gau are perfect for the Chinese New Year celebration,” Julia says, also noting the special dinner menus are now available in honor of Chinese New Year, which kicks off Feb. 3.
“Especially important for Chinese New Year are the deep-fried oysters and the jai (monk’s food),” Norman explains. “The steamed sea bass is also very popular here, and it’s always good to have some fish for the Chinese New Year.”
And in honor of the restaurant’s 31st anniversary, On On also will be giving away one bottle of oyster sauce with each purchase of $20 or more off the regular menu while supplies last.
The Wongs graciously acknowledge the fact that On On has been able to withstand the rise and fall of the economy throughout the years, and are quick to credit the infinite support of their loyal customers.
“We’re still here and thriving, and it’s because we have such a great following — people want us to stay around,” Norman says. “We’re very lucky, business has been good.
“It’s true, we have the same people coming back every week,” Julia chimes. “My mother is friends with everyone — she always runs into people she knows. She remembers customers who used to dine at the Kapahulu On On as little kids and now they’re all grown up, but still frequent the McCully restaurant.”
Feeding generations of families, On On is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and can seat up to 200 hungry diners at a time.
Julia and Norman both hope to keep On On and Duck Yun in the family for as long as possible, and with 20 people on staff they are able to give their guests only the best. However, at the end of the day it all comes back to the family.
“I think it’s always been in my blood to want to be part of the restaurant industry,” Julia recalls, adding that her children, Santino, 19 and Jewelle, 15, also will be offering their services to Duck Yun when time permits.
“The greatest satisfaction is that all our hard work is benefiting the family,” says Norman with a smile.
“You also meet all kinds of people and in a way they become a part of our ‘extended family,’ so that’s definitely a reward in itself,” Julia adds.
“On On has been in the family for such a long time and it’s been successful, so it’s only right to keep it going.”
On On at McCully Chinese Restaurant
- 1110 McCully Street
- Honolulu, HI 96826
- (808) 946-8833
- 10:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.