Cincinnati’s Chinatown and the Restaurant that Launched Doris Day

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From the 1930s up until the bombing of Pearl Harbor in WWII, Cincinnati had a small, but thriving Chinatown.  It was located on several blocks of East Fifth Street around Government Square, and was filled with Chop Suey shops, laundries and the tenements of our over 300 immigrant Chinese, who had made Cincinnati their home.

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One man, Charlie Yee, was named the unofficial Mayor of Cincinnati’s Chinatown, an office he “held” for over 10 years.     He was also known for his famous Cantonese restaurant and nightclub, the Shanghai Inn, on the second floor at 109 East Fifth Street.

Charlie was born in San Francisco, California, where he knew more about Buddha than baseball.  He served in the US Navy, starting in 1915, on the USS Missouri, the first battleship to enter the Panama Canal.   After his tour of duty he came to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1922, and arrived with his first wife and family in 1926 in Cincinnati.  He married twice and had 12 children.    His friends described him as effervescent, sincere, and tenacious.   He was president of all the local and regional Chinese groups and acted as an ambassador for them.

The Shanghai Inn opened to great fanfare on Chinese New Year, February, 1935, offering guests entertainment, fireworks, and an eight course dinner composed of:

Yim Warr Gai Gonk – Chicken bird’s nest soup; Choo Koo Gai Kell – Chicken with mushrooms; Four App Huey Quet – boneless roast duck; Four App – duck stuffed with water chestnuts, bamboo sprouts, eggs, and ham; Sak Woo App – duck stuffed with sour dressing, Gum Gee- browned roast suckling pig; Hung Ya Gai Dang – chicken chopped suey, and Egg Foo Yung.

There was also large amounts of Ng Ka Py passed around – a reddish brown rice wine, nicknamed liquid dynamite and described as tasting like Tequila.

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Charlie started having orchestras with featured entertainers and late night dances at his club.    The descriptions are reminiscent of the Club Obi Wak in the beginning of the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.     It must have been a fantastic setting for a night on the town during Cincinnati’s interwar period.

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In 1938, Mr. Yee hired a local blonde Germanic beauty from Evanston, Doris Kappelhoff, to perform with the Chuck Schaefer Orchestra on Saturday nights.   She was just recovering from a broken leg she suffered in a local car accident that ruined her dancing career.    Doris was the same age as Yee’s daughter, Rose, who also hosted events at the Inn.   This was Doris’ first professional gig, and she would make a whopping $5 a night!  She of course made a big hit, and became  known as the Shanghai Bird.

Charlie would later say of her, “Doris was pretty, and very nice, I was very sorry she left, but I’m glad she became a star.”

Her gig was short-lived with Mr. Yee, as her talent pulled her out of Cincinnati.   Her most famous song would be Que Sera Sera, which she performed in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much.   She hated the song, thinking of it as a child’s song.

Other acts performed at the Shanghai Inn – the Marsh Sisters and Rita Shanon, but none would rise to be as successful as the shy girl from Evanston, who would become Doris Day.   Sadly the building that housed the Shanghai Inn was torn down during our Urban Renewal, but it would be Doris’ Stone Pony, the club that launched her career.

Cincinnati’s One and Only Goetta-in-a-Can

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Food packaging has come a long way since 1953 when Swanson came out with the TV Dinner. The prepackaged full meal – the most common of Salisbury steak, potatoes, and peas, with an apple pie-ish dessert – was designed for quick 20 minute warmup in the standard oven. Oh my – what a treat to the housewife!

Even though the microwave had already been out on the market since 1948, it wasn’t a standard in American kitchens until much later. Consumers were afraid of the effects of radiation, and it would take many more decades for microwave packaging to catch up. It would be fun to learn how many early microwaves were blown up due to metallic packaging being inserted. Now almost everything is microwaveable, as we Americans don’t want to spend any more than 10 minutes on meal prep.

And, goetta has come a long way too, with all these innovations in packaging and fast-prep meals. Goetta was originally made as a more liquidy porridge and stored in crocks, unrefrigerated, with a protective layer of congealed fat on top. Now goetta can be bought in small link form, slider form, and microwaveable and grillable patties. Gliers even sells goetta slider meal kits with everything you need.

Before standard poly flexible packaging of today, shoppers had to resort to frozen products or canned products for shelf stability. It wasn’t until 1965 that Gliers, working with Teepac, was able to offer a double-wound shelf-stable saran packaged goetta tube, which remains the standard today.

On December 9, 1954, just in time for Goetta Season, an article in the Food Section of the Cincinnati Times Star proclaimed, “They’ve Canned Goetta and Jarred Frosting, One of Cincinnati’s favorite dishes, goetta, is now being offered in canned form by a well-known Cincinnati firm.”

This firm was Stegner’s Meat Products. Cincinnatians already knew them for their Mock Turtle Soup, a local favorite, and their canned Cincinnati Chili products. They were located in Over-the-Rhine and were started by Clarence Stegner at Findlay Market in 1916.

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The article went on to say that now the housewife could keep a supply in her pantry, because it required no refrigeration. The instructions for the canned goetta were to remove both ends and push it out of the can, slice it, and fry in hot fat. I wonder what additives were added to make it shelf stable, and how metallic it tasted. The texture would have to have been very thick to make it slide easily out of a can.

The product lasted until the 1980s, when flex packaging took over the market, but 30 years for a canned goetta product is a pretty good run. It was the first and only canned goetta product made in the Greater Cincinnati area. Stegner closed their doors in 2005, after 89 years. By doing so, they surrendered the canned Cincinnati Chili and Mock Turtle Soup market to their competitor, Worthmore, who still makes both products at their Ludlow Avenue Viaduct location in the former Bruckmann Brewery.

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There is still one canned goetta product available made in Burkettsville, Ohio, called Grandma Werling’s goetta. Like Stegners, it is a pork only goetta and not available in stores in Greater Cincinnati, but can be purchased online.

The Original Sugar Daddy

 

 

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Adolph Spreckels, the Original Sugar Daddy.

The term Sugar Daddy is one of the few Victorian expressions that has made it strong into modern times.   The term has appeared in numerous songs, like that of Fleetwood Mac’s 1975 hit.     And there really was an original Sugar Daddy, who has Cincinnati candy connections.

Before Claus Doscher came to Cincinnati in 1865 and started the oldest continually operating candy company in the Queen City, his father dabbled in the sweets too.   Johann Heinrich Doscher landed in New York City in the 1840s and partnered with Johann Spreckels and Friedrick Havermeyer at the Haverymeyer Sugar Bakery in Greenwich Village.   Unfortunately Doscher got sick and decided to head home to Germany to recover – a decision he might have regretted if he knew how successful the American Sugar business was to become in the next several decades.

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Johann Claus Spreckels and his sugar plant.

After Doscher left the partnership,  Havermeyer moved his sugar business to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and started what would become the Domino Sugar Company.      Spreckels moved out to California and started a brewery and then his own sugar empire that dominated the West and Hawaii.      The two would butt heads as their sugar markets began to intersect.    Domino Park in Brooklyn is currently being renovated on the old vacant Domino plant.

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Spreckels passed the thriving business on to his son, Adolph Spreckels, who had the leisurely time of a Victorian Robber Baron to sit on community boards.   One of those boards was the one to choose the sculpture that would sit atop the Dewey Monument in Union Square, San Francisco.   Spreckels was the deciding vote to choose the statute of the Goddess of Victory, which was modeled by a woman 25 years his junior named Alma de Bretteville.   Alma was a six foot tall knockout – the daughter of poor Danish immigrants.   She had already made a name for herself posing nude for many of the bay area and California sculptors and artists.      Adolph became enamored with her, courted her, and married her in 1908.

Alma de Bretteville Spreckels’ image atop the Dewey Monument, and her engagement picture.

Because he was older, rich, and owned a sugar empire, she referred to him as her “Sugar Daddy,”  and the name stuck and became a the popular slang term it remains today.

Later Alma  learned Adolph had contracted syphilis before they married, but thankfully she hadn’t been infected by him.   After his death, Alma became a very active patroness of the arts (particularly the artist Rodin)  and her Bay Area community.

The home she and Adolph built in 1913 in Pacific Heights is now the home of the popular author Danielle Steele.

The Sugar Daddy Mansion when the Spreckels owned it (left) and now owned by Danielle Steele (right).