Mr. Hom, an Asian immigrant story in Bellows Falls

Mr. Hom
Joy Wah Restaurant on Route 5 in Bellows Falls. Photo by Bill Lockwood

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – The long-time proprietor of the Joy Wah Restaurant in Bellows Falls is known to many as simply Mr. Hom. He welcomes his customers always with a warm smile and often with a handshake as well. He is as much a fixture as any in town, almost as if he’s simply always been here. Few know the story of where he came from or how he got here. Too private a person to want to be photographed, he did recently share his story through an anonymous friend.

He was born Chi Chiang Hom in Toy Shan, China in 1947. He was part of a large family with nine children from two mothers. Maids helped take care of the home and family, and the mother treated them like daughters. After the 1949-50 Communist take over and confiscation of their property Hom says, “The maids supported us. They were very good to us because my mother was very good to them.”

The loss of their property resulted in Hom’s father going to Honduras with his older brother in an attempt to support the family. Hom did not see his father for many years while the father opened a restaurant, then expanded to wholesale groceries and an import/export business. In the meantime Hom lived with his sister and brother-in-law in Hong Kong where he apprenticed to a Hilton Head pastry chef and went to school. It was there that he learned English and met his future wife, Chui Kwan, who was a good friend of his sister.

In 1967, when he was 22, Hom traveled to Honduras to work with his father. There he learned Spanish. His knowledge of English got him promoted from dishwasher to waiter, a position that earned more than the number one cook. Hom kept in touch with his future wife, and they married in Hong Kong in 1973.

The couple then lived in Brooklyn for about a year then moved to Brattleboro to open the Jade Wah Restaurant, next to the Latchis Theater and Hotel on Main Street, with three friends. They operated the business for 11 years. The couple became U.S. citizens, had their first child, Lily, in 1980, and bought a house in West Brattleboro. Hom relates that he knocked on his neighbor’s door and asked them if it was alright with them to have Chinese neighbors. The family said, “Yes,” and they are still good friends.

In 1987, the Homs purchased the former Yesterday Inn and Restaurant building to open the Joy Wah in Bellows Falls, and the family moved to live upstairs. They redecorated the restaurant with ornate ceiling panels and artwork from China Town in New York City.

The Joy Wah was busy right away. Hom says they celebrate both American and traditional Chinese holidays, and over the years they have been able to take vacations and cruises leaving the business in the hands of their staff “because the staff is so good.” He credits his business success to two things, his good business mind and the fact he treats everyone as a valued person, the same way his mother did.

Hom recently came back from retirement to help the new management. Now again, he is retired. He says, “I’m not going to work forever.”

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