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Chowing Down : East, West Combination Is Successful Recipe for Restaurant Serving Jewish, Chinese Fare

January 08, 1987|MIKE WYMA | Wyma is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

Fred Arnold, a general contractor, goes there for the chicken chow mein, and sometimes for the cheese blintzes.

Joe Angrisani, director of graphic arts at Warner Bros. in Burbank, goes there for the corned beef sandwich, and sometimes for the shrimp foo yung.

Mark Anthony, business manager for Bob Hope, keeps coming back for the sweet and sour dishes, although sometimes he is tempted by the lox.

The place they frequent is Chow's Kosherama in Burbank, probably(basis for this supposition?) the only combination Chinese restaurant and Jewish delicatessen in Southern California. Certainly it is the most successful, dishing out the cuisine of two very different cultures since 1972. From chop suey to chopped liver, you can get it at Chow's Kosherama.

Dick Chow, who owns and runs the restaurant with his wife, Shui Yee, remembered the problems he faced after buying the business. Called simply Kosherama when he took over, the place was a deli on the restaurant row section of Riverside Drive where Toluca Lake and Burbank meet. The founder, the late Hy Miller, convinced Chow to retain the deli menu and add Chinese food to it.

Winning Combo

"He knew that Jewish people love Chinese food," said Chow, 54, of Burbank. "He told me, 'You keep the Jewish food and put your Chinese cook in back, and it will be good.'

"But I had a tough time picking a name," continued Chow, who had owned a restaurant called the Golden Kitchen in Victoria, British Columbia. "Chinese restaurant names don't fit with Kosherama. I had a guy come in and give me the idea of the name Schwartz and Chow. But I'm happy with what I picked."

Something of an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp" (sweet and sour variety, of course), the name "Chow's Kosherama" nicely captured the restaurant's contradictory origins. But there still was the problem of the menu.

"The first time I had menus printed the guy said, 'You know, Chow, the deli has lots of items and the Chinese has lots of items. You're going to need lots of pages."

139 Items on Menu

The printer was right. From item No. 1, Chow's mixed appetizers, to item No. 139, matzo ball soup, the menu at Chow's Kosherama runs four pages. Prices are moderate. On page 3 is the disclaimer, "Food sold in this establishment is not strictly kosher."

"It never was, even when I started," Chow explained. "The name Kosherama means it's deli food, not it's strictly kosher."

Steve Miller, an attorney in Sherman Oaks, is a son of Hy Miller and recalled when his father opened the eatery.

"That was in '56 or '57," Miller said. "I was raised in the restaurant. At that time there were no delis in the area, and pretty soon Kosherama had quite a reputation. It was written up numerous times, as far away as New York. A lot of movie people came in."

Chow lost his Riverside Drive location in 1984 when a developer built a high-rise on the spot. The restaurateur-owner moved a few miles away to a new building on Olive Avenue. The decor is simple. Employees of the studios and production companies still frequent the place, but the longer drive has cut down on their numbers. Others have taken their place.

Business Has Tripled

"I'm doing three times the business now," Chow said, "because I've got more room for customers and more parking. But it's changed. In the old place I'd do half and half, Chinese and Jewish. Since I moved over here, Chinese food is going very strong, maybe 70-30."

Because of the changing clientele, Chow has cut the size of his deli case in half. But he still displays an assortment of cold cuts, pickles and the like.

"I take people there for the Chinese," said Gregg Garrison, producer of television's "Dean Martin Show" and a recent pilot for a show starring Dom DeLuise, "and they see the salamis hanging in the deli case and say, 'What is this? You said we're going for Chinese.' I tell them to forget the salami and wait and see. They're always delighted."

Chow is a native of China's Canton province, where food is spiced lightly or not at all. He believes that his restaurant's popularity comes in part from a growing dislike among Americans for rich or highly spiced meals. Chow omits monosodium glutamate from dishes on request.

The restaurant has seen an increase in competition in recent years with the proliferation of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants in Los Angeles.

"To succeed you have to keep your food good and your prices down," Chow said. "My cook goes to the produce market downtown every morning and gets the best food. Then we cook it without grease. One thing I don't like about some of the Asian restaurants now is their cooking to me is too greasy."

He said it is not surprising that many immigrants open restaurants.

"We have education problems. We can't get into the fields like you guys can. When I came from China to Canada in 1955, all my friends and relatives were in the restaurant business. But the next generation is not going for it."

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