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Cottage Grove restaurant reaches 50-year milestone

Connie and Wee Yang Moy in the dining area of Tom Moy Café in Cottage Grove. The restaurant is celebrating 50 years in business. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente

Cottage Grove was not Tom Moy's destination when he left China for the United States in 1939, but it would became home to him -- and his namesake restaurant.

One generation of ownership later, Tom Moy Café is celebrating its 50th year in business. Thought to be the city's longest-running restaurant, Tom Moy offers a Cantonese-style menu in a buffet, by order and for take-out.

The five-decade-old restaurant has seen many loyal patrons return time and again, said Connie Moy, daughter-in-law to the restaurant's founder.

"I've got lots of good customers," she said.

A Cottage Grove restaurant was not Tom Moy's initial plan. At the age of 29, he departed from China to meet up with his father in Chicago, leaving behind his children, who would join him later. After getting a start in Chicago, he moved to La Crosse, Wis., to open a restaurant.

In 1960, friends told Tom Moy to head for the St. Paul area because it would be good for business, said his daughter-in-law. He headed for the Twin Cities and found Cottage Grove, then a small town that looked like a good business opportunity for an entrepreneurial restaurateur.

"In Cottage Grove, (there were) no restaurants -- no Chinese restaurants -- and not too many people living here," said Connie Moy.

The restaurant opened in 1961 at the former Cottage Square Mall and became a mainstay as the city grew. (Tom Moy Café moved to its current spot at 7420 80th St. in 2005.)

Tom Moy ran his restaurant until the mid-1980s when he retired. He died in 1985, leaving the restaurant to his son, Wee Yang Moy, and daughter-in-law. There was no question of closing the restaurant upon his death.

"Before he passed away, he asked me to make sure to keep the business (running)," Connie Moy said.

Operating a restaurant is a time-consuming and difficult venture, with many not surviving beyond the first couple of years. Connie Moy said there is no secret to Tom Moy Café's long run, beyond what would be expected: Make sure the food is good; employ good workers; and offer a good experience for customers.

Tom Moy Café employs about 10 workers, including three cooks. In addition, Connie Moy can be found running the restaurant seven days a week.

"I want to make sure everything is OK," she said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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