Mid-Autumn Festival is coming up and that means there will be a rush to buy mooncakes to celebrate the holiday.
One bakery in Los Angeles has been making mooncakes as well as other delicacies for eight decades, but as CGTN’s May Lee reports, there’s much more to the bakery’s history than just its sweet offerings.
It’s mid-autumn festival season, which means this modest bakery in LA’s Chinatown is pounding out mooncakes by the hundreds all by hand.
Phoenix Bakery is a historic landmark that’s celebrating it’s 80th anniversary. Chinese immigrant Fung Chow Chan started the business in 1938.
Chan’s daughter, Kathy Chan Ceppi is Chairman and CEO of Phoenix Bakery. She recalls, “Rumor has it he started out sweeping back rooms and studied and my mother said people always celebrate with sweets and we sort of miss the sweets we had in China so how about we try a bakery and that’s sort of how it grew.”
And grew it did, but Phoenix Bakery has always been a family run business. Ceppi, along with her brothers and cousins, grew up in the bakery and some are still part of the business.
“For as long as I can remember I was here and as soon as you could do something useful you were put to work” says Ceppi. “It was a family business.”
The bakery is best known for it’s legendary strawberry cake, a simple yellow sponge cake with layers of fresh strawberries and whipped cream. This is a cake that has stood the test of time.
Youlen Chan, head of production at the bakery, spent a year figuring out exactly how to make the cake like his father did. The secret was doing more by hand and less with heavy machinery.
But there’s much more to Phoenix Bakery and it’s founder than just cakes and cookies. Despite having a successful business, Fung Chow Chan couldn’t get bank loans because of discriminatory laws, so in 1962 he opened Cathay Bank, the first Chinese American owned bank in Southern California.
Ten years later, Chan started East West Bank, which provided mortgages to Chinese home buyers. Both financial institutions now have global operations with 2018 assets totaling 36 billion dollars for East West and 16 billion for Cathay.
Without a doubt, both banks helped change lives at a time when Chinese immigrants didn’t have many options.
“They gave economic opportunity, it gave them the ability to buy a house and become mainstream”, says Kelly Chan, VP of Finance.
But the Chan family never let go of Phoenix Bakery, a symbol of hard work, sacrifice and community and it’s all because of one man with a vision.
“He was a maverick, he was a visionary”, says Ceppi. “He could be difficult because he was a visionary, but he had good ideas and made a lot of them happen.”
And to think it all started with a cake.