258 King St.
Today: Club Monaco
Yesterday: Yue Hing Restaurant, 1890-1896
On the menu: Oyster egg omelet, 30 cents (Dec. 10, 1896)
The menu at Yue Hing wouldn’t today register as distinctly Chinese: Customers had their choice of Boston stew, fried chicken and oysters done three different ways. Still, the restaurant was invariably described in the local press as “Chinese,” based on the ethnic heritage of Yue and his partner, Wong Gin, who at one point made the news for marrying a white woman from Darlington.
In early 1896, Wong wed the 20-year-old Bettie Kirby. “She has a good-natured, pleasant face,” reported The News and Courier, adding that she blushed upon realizing that the ceremony would be chronicled in the paper. Wong “was amazed and seemed very much put out” by the intrusion.
Officially, Kirby and Wong’s union was illegal in South Carolina, which in 1717 forbid white people from marrying people of color. The ban was briefly rescinded during Reconstruction, but was soon thereafter reinstated: It remained on the books until 1998.
Still, it doesn’t appear from the written record that Wong and Kirby feared being called out for violating the law. According to MIT professor Emma Teng, a scholar of Chinese-Western mixed race families in the late 1800s, interracial couples faced varying degrees of acceptance across the country.
While Yue and Wong were depicted in overtly racist ways, it appears Charlestonians at least afforded them enough respect to share Yue’s outrage when an employee snuck red pepper into his tobacco jar. The culprit was jailed for two days.
Rather, it seems Wong and Kirby were worried about the story because they hadn’t invited any of Wong’s customers or friends to their wedding at Yue Hing. “I’m not ready yet,” Wong protested, telling the reporter that he was in no position to throw the expected party. “Soon I’ll get cigars and wine and give my friends a nice picnic.”
While Wong went on about the cake he planned to serve, the reporter noticed “his bride in the yard, whiling away the happy hours of the honeymoon by wringing the neck of a fat pullet doomed to tickle the palate of some gourmand patron.”
— Hanna Raskin