Marketing and media specialist, Cherry Yuet, is truly the heart of the Mahjong Social Kitchen + Parlor project. In fact, the 276 East Pender building, the future home of the Mahjong Social restaurant, was built by the Yuet family in the mid-80s and operated as a successful seafood, butcher and BBQ house.
Cherry was born in Hong Kong, arriving in Vancouver at the age of nine. It was the 70s and Vancouver’s Chinatown offered a vibrant, bustling streetscape of colourful neon lights, aromatic food displayed in shop windows, crowds of people and animated conversations. It resembled “a little bit of Hong Kong,” she remembers. “It was a gathering place for new immigrants to feel at home for a moment, as well as the Chinese residents who now called Canada home.” Spending time in Chinatown was initially a “complicated relationship” for Cherry, as she transitioned from her Hong Kong way of life to a new Canadian lifestyle. As time went on though, both worlds blended into one richly layered life.
In Hong Kong, Cherry’s parents had operated multiple butcher and seafood shops since 1967. When they arrived in Vancouver, they pursued the food service industry and at one point, owned three locations in Chinatown. In 1986, they built the three-storey building on East Pender now destined to become the Seventeen88 restaurant. Cherry is extremely proud of her parents and their contributions to Chinatown’s early grandeur; the community recognized them as strong leaders. Her brother, Tong Yuet, has also been very instrumental in supporting Chinatown and its revitalization. Tong was the president of the Chinese Merchant Association and spearheaded the building of the iconic Vancouver Chinatown Millennium Gate landmark. “Entrepreneurship is in my DNA,” jokes Cherry.
As a student, Cherry attended the Vancouver Film School, eventually becoming the Manager of the Foundation Visual Art & Design Program and later, the Media Manger of the Marketing Department. Cherry continues to work in print and web design, and as an event and performance photographer.
Cherry’s talent as a creative problem solver and her instinct to foresee future trends, prompted her to contact Benny Doro. She had followed the buzz around Benny’s music and business career for almost 25 years, but the two had never met. Cherry sensed momentum in the revitalization of Chinatown – “I knew that Chinatown was coming back, everybody here could feel it” – and thought Benny might have some ideas about what to do with the empty building on East Pender. It was a fortuitous move, the two are now partners in the Seventeen88 restaurant project, and plans for an extraordinary venue that will celebrate traditional foods, culture and nightlife alongside contemporary trends are underway.
“I’m drawing ideas from my own childhood in Hong Kong for our new restaurant,” says Cherry. “I remember the street food in Hong Kong, you could get delicious homemade noodles 24 hours a day. And, dim sum was bonding time with your family and friends. Chinese food is about feeding the family and about getting together; it is the binder for everything. My understanding of food and restaurants is that it feeds your soul.”
Cherry is thrilled about the roof top dining space, the only one in Chinatown, and promises that a giant vintage-style neon sign will grace the restaurant to embrace the early years of Chinatown.