Patrons Are Family For Businesswoman



Payson is nearly 8,000 miles away from British-ruled Hong Kong where Judy Oi-Po Chow grew up.

"Hong Kong is like New York City -- busy and everything is fast," Chow said. "Everybody is a hard worker. China is a little bit slower, but getting much better now."

Chow's birth parents had three daughters. They passed away when she was little, but made arrangements for each child to be adopted by different family friends.

"Since they were friends, we grew up playing together," Chow said. She has no memories of her birth parents.

When her family came to the states, her siblings did not have the same opportunity.

"My father worked (as a chef) for the American Ambassador in Hong Kong," Chow said. So the family was able to get the paperwork necessary to immigrate to the United States and her father found employment in Arizona.

She stepped off the air-conditioned plane in Phoenix July 7, 1977. Like many first-time visitors, she was stunned by the heat.

"It was over 100 degrees. Hong Kong is hot too, but wet; this was dry," she said.

It would be five years before she discovered Payson.

In the meantime, she found the Queen's English she learned in school was different than American English.

"When I came over here, I had to start all over again learning English," she said, but it was in those adult English classes that she met her husband Paul.

Their two-year courtship was more traditionally Chinese than the American dating scene.

"We listen to our parents ... if our parents don't approve, (the marriage) won't work out very good.

"You don't want to fight with your parents. The tradition should be ‘listen to your parents.' Even when you get married, you may all live together under the same roof ... you can take care of your parents as they age.

"Paul is a nice father and a nice husband," she said with a big smile. Judy was born in the Year of the Dog on the Chinese calendar. Paul was born in the Year of the Tiger, which is a compatible sign for the "dog." They have been married 27 years.

Judy's father passed his job as a chef on to Paul when he left Arizona for California.

Paul cooked for the Firestone (tire) family for 10 years.

"My father was the cook, so I was never in his kitchen," Judy said. "When I married Paul, I knew how to boil water. My father didn't want me to mess up his kitchen. His recipes were all in his head. He was of the older generation. They don't want to pass on recipes, so they are lost."

Judy does remember her father made "the best" sesame cookies.

It was Paul's idea to open a restaurant, and the couple discovered Payson through friends who had a summer home here.

"When we came to visit, they took us to Woods Canyon Lake," Judy said. "It is beautiful up there and the weather is nice. That year it was 124 degrees (in the Valley). It was in the mid 70s at the lake, really nice.

"It was a good move for our children, too. Now that they have lived in a small town, they don't want to live in a big city."

Sharon and Steffi Chow may both be familiar faces to longtime patrons of The Wok, since they worked there while they were growing up. Now, the two are working and going to school in Prescott.

Judy loves the Payson climate. Before her 10-hour days at the restaurant, she tries to take a half-hour walk.

"It is nice in Payson, with all the trees. It's good for the body," she said.


Name: Judy Oi-Po Chow

Family: Husband Paul, daughters Sharon and Steffi.

Inspiration: When we first moved to town it was difficult to get to know people, now the customers are just like family to us. I like all my customers -- they help me get through the day. I want to thank them. Sometimes people have bad days, everyone does, but the longer you know people, the nicer they become. We've seen people move away from Payson, or they enter nursing homes or pass away, but there are always new people to cheer us. The restaurant isn't just about the owner, it is about the employees too, they help it run and I appreciate them. Now, the restaurant is part of our life.

Dream vacation spot: Hong Kong. I have been back a few times in the last 18 years but it was before we started the business. When I retire, I can go visit my sisters, Lai Cheung and Lai York and their children.

Favorite leisure activity: Going to movies with friends. Mostly love stories, but I like scary movies too!

The three words that describe me best: "Oh, you have to earn something nice from someone's mouth, not say it yourself. I just believe you try to do your best as a person."

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