The origin story of Le Hoa Oriental Restaurant

Owners of Le Hoa Oriental Restaurant say they are touched by the outpouring of support on Facebook, and share a bit about the origins of the dishes offered on their menu today.

Last week, over four hundred residents from the Fort Frances Rant & Rave Facebook group raved about the kindness and great food from restaurant owners John and Leona who run one of the only Asian restaurants in Fort Frances.

“We are very touched,” they said. “This brings back memories of where we came from, and how we got started in this loving community.”

John and Leona, whose birth names are Guang Zong Wu and Qun He Liang, immigrated from China to Fort Frances in August of 1998 in search of the Canadian dream.

Both had many years of experience in the service industry. Before gaining ownership of Le Hoa Oriental Restaurant in 1999, they originally worked as cooks at the Red Dog Inn, now known as the Copper River Inn, and learned how to cook many of their favorite dishes back in China.

Immigrating to a new country comes with unique challenges. At first, the language barrier was difficult to overcome, but John and Leona quickly adapted thanks to the support of members from a local church and friends in the community.

They attribute a lot of their success to the help of Tom and Roxanne Wong, local residents who helped them with the process of acquiring Le Hoa restaurant in 1999. Tom taught Math and Science at the high school and his wife Roxanne ran her own business.

“They both knew the dialect of Chinese we spoke [called] Cantonese, and were instrumental in helping us get established,” John and Leona said.

Le Hoa Oriental Restaurant was purchased from Randall Lu who has since moved out of town, they said, adding that they decided not to rename the restaurant.

As one of the only Asian restaurants in a remote community, sourcing oriental ingredients continues to present challenges today. John and Leona say they try to source ingredients locally as much as possible, however, additional ingredients such as Chinese vegetables, wonton wraps and special noodles are trucked in from markets in Winnipeg and Toronto.

The restaurant’s Szechuan noodles, Wonton soup, honey spicy chicken and chicken wings are extremely popular, however the restaurant owners say it’s hard to pick which dishes are the most popular because frequent customers order from a wide variety of menu items.

Personally, John and Leona say they love to eat Lo Mein and Bon Bon SpareRibs, both classic dishes that they learned how to make in China.

“We strive to create dishes that are both comforting and filling and are happy with making dishes that are not on the menu,” John and Leona said.

Over the years, thanks to the success of their restaurant, John and Leona have been able to put their kids through school. Their eldest son Jerry and older daughter Judy have both graduated from universities in southern Ontario. Their youngest daughter Joyce is in her second year at McMaster University, following the footsteps of her older siblings who have pursued careers in healthcare and technology.

“We are so proud of their academic achievements,” John and Leona said. “For this, we would like to give credit to the teachers and staff of Rainy River District School Board for providing such an excellent education and guidance to our children.”

“We are grateful to the people of Fort Frances and our loyal customers for their constant support. Without them, our dreams wouldn’t be possible.”

In their free time, John and Leona enjoy soaking up the natural beauty of the Rainy River District. Their favorite spot for walks is at La Verendrye Parkway.

Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times