Sisters Susanna Wong-Burgess and Angela Wong Miller have come full circle—back to the family restaurant business that nurtured them.
It’s a circle that began back in 1972 when their father, Mike Wong, came to the United States after escaping the communist Chinese regime. For three years he worked to bring over his wife, Helen, 3-year-old Susanna and 3-month-old Angela, who were still in Hong Kong. When they arrived and settled in Cincinnati, the family launched what has become one of the region’s dining staples, the Oriental Wok.
While the girls spent much of their youth playing in the restaurant and working while everyone else was eating, their parents emphasized education first and foremost, says Angela, and “never held a gun to our heads and made us work here,” adds Susanna. Nevertheless, they understood that “this is how you eat.”
“We still think, ‘How many egg rolls do you have to sell to buy…’ whatever it is we’re looking at, such as a pair of shoes,” says Angela.
“Dad really discouraged us from working in the restaurant business,” says Susanna. “He wanted us to have choices. But we both missed it, and we’re back in the business by choice.”
Although not without some exploring first. Susanna spent time earning an MBA in 1997. Angela earned a bachelor’s degree in international business in 1994 and lived in Japan for four years. “A Chinese girl teaching English in Japan—I wasn’t what they expected,” she says.
But they both returned and now exude the same passion for their patrons and attention to detail their father had—from his “Wok of Fame” wall of Hollywood-type stars that showcases loyal customers to servers who are taught to sing “Happy Birthday” in Chinese. They’ve grown the business to three restaurants, assembled an Oriental Wok Sauce collection they’re selling at local grocers and online, and are working on expanding the menu.
They’re also expanding the family heritage. Both sons-in-law are involved. Susanna also has a 6-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, and Angela has a 3-month-old son. After all, the next generation has to eat as well.