Eat Chinatown exhibit marks Chinese culture's role in San Francisco history

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- A newly launched campaign in San Francisco known as Eat Chinatown aims to showcase the tradition and importance of food, a celebration that will unfold at the same time as the city observes its annual Chinese New Year celebration.

The effort is an attempt to help communities beyond Chinatown understand the importance of tradition and the role food plays in uniting different cultures.

The Eat Chinatown event is scheduled to run through April 9. The public can see the exhibit at 41 Ross Alley in Chinatown. Admission is free. For more information, click here.

The Eat Chinatown is using a photo exhibit to tell the back stories of historic businesses -- a tribute and campaign to help participating businesses thrive.

Capital restaurant has been serving Chinese comfort food for over 30 yers. The eatery, located at 839 Clay Street, has a simple menu with a matching decor.

"The food (has) very good taste," said Samantha Lo, the restaurant's owner. "The second is service (because) the nicer you treat people . . . they come in just like a family."

Lo immigrated from Guandong, China where she worked at a toy factory as a young woman. After arriving in San Francisco, she worked as a server at Capital for her mother-in-law before she bought the business.

Lo's success story resonated with the organizers of Eat Chinatown.

"Hopefully, this exhibit will shine a light on their backstory to tell the history of these spaces and the community of Chinatown," says Andria Lo, Eat Chinatown photographer.

Chinatown was built by immigrants who were attempting to settle into their newly-adopted country. And food establishments -- whether restaurants, bakeries or diners -- were gathering places for the new arrivals.

"They didn't come here with much and now they run successful businesses that are such anchors in the community," Lo said.

Organizers says photos have been invaluable in helping preserve and communicate the stories of the food businesses, both past and present.

Valerie Luu, a writer for Eat Chinatown, said organizers were excited to share the stories of the participants as they met the people behind the businesses.

"The more time we spent here . . . the more we wanted to tell their story," she said.

The Eat Chinatown exhibit aims to showcase the central role food has played in Chinese culture and in shaping its place in San Francisco history.

"A lot of restaurants here don't have PR companies representing them so we're really excited to share their stories in hopes that people come visit and eat," Luu said.

At Capital, Lo said the farm-to-table concept was practiced here long before it was a trend. The establishment's vegetables come from local mom-and-pop markets and fresh poultry, seafood and meat are a must-have, the owners say.

"We're one of the best," Lo said, adding that business has been tough in recent years because of competition from Chinese restaurants in other neighborhoods.

By KTVU reporter Amber Lee.