One of Berkeley’s oldest, most cherished restaurants celebrated a milestone recently when it held a birthday party for the “Grande Dame” of King Tsin, the matriarch who has overseen the popular Solano Avenue restaurant since it opened in 1967.
As is her custom, the birthday girl, Mother Lou, who turned 88 this year, was hard at work making traditional birthday buns for the occasion.
She handcrafted the special long-life breads in the shape of pears for every one of the 100 attendees at the event, according to one of King Tsin’s most loyal customers, Matt Kelleher, a filmmaker who lives in El Cerrito.
“It was a terrific celebration,” said Kelleher, who added that he has been coming to the restaurant since its opening year. “She can still churn out the pot stickers faster than any of the current kitchen staff — she must have been making about 50 every five minutes.”
“My mother makes everything by hand,” says Albert Lou. “I don’t think there’s anyone else who makes birthday buns like my mother.”
Albert took over managing the restaurant in 2003 after his five siblings left him, as he puts it, “the only man standing”. Son Kim moved to Walnut Creek to start another (eventually five) restaurants, son Lemo retired after 25 years in the kitchen; and sisters Selina and Nancy, who also put in many years, are also retired.
King Tsin serves dim sum and Szechuan dishes, as well as Mandarin cuisine at 1699 Solano Avenue. The restaurant was started by Fat Hing Lou in 1967.
The Lou family emigrated to the Bay Area from Shan Dong province with nothing to their name, said Kelleher who describes himself as a family friend. “I have seen everyone in the family working at King Tsin over the years,” he said.
The family traditions that exist at the restaurant extend to its clientèle, according to Albert. “We have three generations of customers. We see kids come eat here, then grow up and have kids of their own who they then bring to the restaurant.”