2830 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Nestled along Milwaukee Avenue’s bustling strip of discount retail stores in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, Friendship restaurant offers dishes that are 180 degrees from your corner Chinese joint — well kind of. While the restaurant does serve up some Americanized Chinese staples such as General Tao Shrimp and Beef Chow Fun Noodles, the Coconut Wasabi Chicken and Honey Walnut Shrimp are dishes you won’t find on your typical chop suey menu. I recently got a chance to sit down with owner and head chef Alan Yuen to talk about his restaurant and reminisce about growing up in the business.
When did you first open Friendship? Why not open in Chinatown or the Loop?
Friendship has been in the family for 29 years. My father (Yup Chi Yuen) first opened the original restaurant just across the street. Then in 1992, he built this building and moved the restaurant over. When my father first opened the restaurant, it looked like your typical Chinese chop suey restaurant. But when I moved back from New York City and took over the business, I decided to give the restaurant a makeover and create a more contemporary menu and ambiance in the restaurant. (Alan, who grew up in Chicago, worked in advertising for several years in New York City. He decided to return back to the Chi in 1999 when his father fell ill.) None of my brothers or sisters were interested in taking over the restaurant after my father passed away. Rather than sell it to someone else, I decided to take over the family business. I’ve thought of opening another restaurant in the future, but nothing for sure yet. As a sepereate side project during the summer, I open up Diosa, which is located along the Chicago River Walk on lower Wacker Drive between State and Wabash. That restaurant’s menu includes sushi along with some familiar Friendship dishes.
You mentioned you were in advertising. Do you miss working in the corporate world?
I studied advertising when I was in college. When I was living in New York, I used to start my day at 5 a.m., so similar to working in restaurants you still work long hours. When I was young, I use to hate it when my parents dragged me to the restaurant to work. But now, I enjoy coming into work and creating new dishes. When I took over Friendship, I wanted to change the perception of Chinese restaurants. My customers today come to Friendship for great food and ambiance. We get lots of couples coming in for special dates. The average turn-around time at Chinese restaurants is around 40 minutes. Our average dine-in time is one hour and 30 minutes.
Where did you learn how to cook?
I first learned how to cook from my father. But when I move back to Chicago, I wanted to expand my skills, so I studied under a chef from France and began to incorporate French style cooking with Chinese techniques. For example, our Boneless Peking Duck is seasoned and roasted in the traditional Chinese style, but it’s served with a French inspired Grand Marnier sauce.
You decided to change the menu and ambiance when you took over the restaurant, but why did you decide to keep the name Friendship?
This restaurant has been in the community for so long, and I have met so many families who came here with their parents as children and are now bringing their children here. Both my parents have passed now and this was the restaurant they started, so I still want to honor that.