George Cheung has been serving customers in Williams Lake restaurants for 50 years and still loves what he does.
“You have to like your job, that’s the bottom line,” he said as he served coffee one afternoon in Ken’s Restaurant which he and his wife, Janette, have owned since 1994.
Lining a glass case below the front counter are dozens of photographs of children, which Janette said have been given to them by customers over the years.
“Customers are more than that. They’re friends,” Janette said. “Some of them call us auntie and uncle and some are grown up with children of their own now.”
George nodded, adding if they ever needed help they know they would receive it.
“One time we got a flat tire by Redstone, and while we were waiting for BCAA to come, we had so many people stop and ask if we needed help,” he said. “Our customers are like family.”
The couple said aside from their regular customers they also love meeting new people.
“It’s always very interesting,” George said.
George got his start in the restaurant business as a bus boy when he was 10 years old.
He’d moved to Williams Lake from Hong Kong at the age of nine with his parents, Joe and Mae Cheung, and his siblings Gordon, Susan and Sherry.
“My aunt, Joanne Wong, owned the Ranch Cafe, where Oliver’s Pub is now, and hired my dad to work for her.”
It was “scary,” George said of his first impressions of Williams Lake.
“We had no snow in Hong Kong and the snow was six feet high here when we arrived on Jan. 8, 1967. I’d never been to another country and I didn’t speak English.”
The Cheung family of six moved into a one-bedroom place in the Williams Lake Rooms, located where the Elks Hall is today on First Avenue South.
“We shared a bathroom and kitchen with other Chinese workers at the restaurant,” he said.
Sometime in 1968, the restaurant at Lakeview Hotel became available, so Joe and three other partners purchased it.
George was a student at Williams Lake Elementary — later renamed Marie Sharpe — at the time and began his job as a bus boy, working whenever he wasn’t in school.
“I went to school with (Black Press B.C. – North President) Lorie Williston — she was a Cheek then — and her husband, Mike Williston, lived across the street from me,” George said.
When he graduated in 1977, George went to work full-time at the Lakeview and eventually became a business partner.
The restaurant was busy.
It was open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. as the hotel also had a lounge and bar.
Originally from Perry, Ont. Janette Tucci moved to Calgary and then Williams Lake, wanting a change.
She met George when she was hired to work at the Lakeview.
They were married on June 22, 1979 and have worked together since.
George’s father sold his share of the cafe in 1979 and he and Mae moved to Vancouver.
Joe died in 1987 and Mae, now 92, still lives in Vancouver.
When they sold the restaurant in 1994, the Cheungs had a three-month break and then bought Ken’s Restaurant.
“We were the fourth owners of Ken’s. It was actually the old fire hall and the building was converted when they built the fire hall where the arts centre is today. There was CKWL radio station upstairs.”
George and Janette have three grown children — Julie, 47, Corry, 46 and Kingsley, 29.
Julie lives in 100 Mile and Corry and Kingsley live in Williams Lake.
When Kingsley was growing up, he helped his parents in the restaurant.
For the first 10 years owning Ken’s, they’d close the restaurant every July to go camping and visit George’s mom in Vancouver.
Now they close when they need to for a few days or a week at a time.
They have five grandchildren and one great grandchild, and said they love spending time camping and fishing with them.
“We just leave our trailer at Blue Lake and spend time there.”
Family comes first, they said.
“If we have to close the restaurant for them, we don’t hesitate,” George said.
Janette described her situation as “half-retired.”
“If the grandkids are around, I’m gone,” she said. “When our older grandchildren were kids they would come to the restaurant in their PJs and wait until we were done to go to our house with us.”
George does prep work in the kitchen before it opens at 10:30 a.m. and has one major cook and one kitchen helper on staff.
“We still serve Chinese and Western. The Chinese food is what I learned to make growing up,” he said.
Eyeing the future, George and Janette are not quite ready to make any predictions yet.
“We just have to play it by ear,” Janette added.