Hock Wo and son Randy Wo-Eng, the new owners of Kau Kau. Photo by Ron Chew

With so much instability in Seattle’s restaurant sector, it’s comforting to know that change can sometimes arrive gently. 

In April, Kau Kau Barbecue Market and Restaurant, a fixture of Chinatown’s business community on South King Street for 50 years, quietly took on new owners. 

Lynn Eng-Chang and husband Richard Chang had run the popular barbecue establishment since the death of Lynn’s father Wai Eng in 2012. In 1958, Eng founded the restaurant in downtown Seattle, on Second Avenue between Seneca and Spring Streets; that spot closed in 1985. When Eng opened his second Kau Kau site on King Street in 1974, it became the first Chinese barbecue house in Seattle. Local families who have been loyal customers for generations swear that it still makes the best roast duck and barbecue pork in the region.

On April 8, Lynn and Richard sold Kau Kau to Hock Wo and his family. They had been discussing the sale for a long time. Richard and Lynn have two grown kids: Justin, 31, and Kianna, 28. Neither wanted to take over the business. The date was chosen because of the auspiciousness of the number eight. 

Lynn and Richard, sitting down for an interview a week later, said they hadn’t yet decided on retirement plans, except that they wanted to take a few months off and vacation in Hawaii. They were still very emotional about letting go of the business that dominated their every waking moment.

Richard said he joined the restaurant after marrying Lynn. “My adulthood and professional life are all here,” he said. “Twenty-one years. I have a lot of sentimental attachment to this place. I had the opportunity to work with the older generation and alongside the younger generation. I watched young people grow up in the kitchen and attend college and graduate and succeed. I have so many memories. But it was finally time to hand it over to the next generation.”

Lynn Eng-Chang, asked how she feels about the sale of the business, choked back tears. “I’m still too emotional. I’m sad. Relieved. This was my father’s baby. We’ve served generations of families. We’ve come to know so many people. I’ve learned so much about my own family history through these customers. I’ve learned that there are all kinds of people out there, good and bad. How we treat them will leave them happier.” 

“In the early 1970s, I got my start at the old location downtown. I was in third grade,” Lynn Eng-Chang continued. “I used to fill the cigarette machines and collect the quarters. Cigarettes were 25 cents a pack. I also helped cashier there. Later, after my dad started up the Korea Ginseng Center near Kau Kau, Richard and I helped manage that business, too. Both of our kids were in cribs, and I had a dog in the back.”

Lynn Eng-Chang and Richard Chang, longtime owners of Kau Kau. Photo by Ron Chew.

Wo, 81, is a familiar face to customers. He’s the stolid man in white apron and long goatee who has anchored the restaurant’s front counter for nearly half-a-century. He immigrated from Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar) in 1974, joining his sister and mother in Seattle. Wo’s sister had petitioned for his arrival. Even though Hock’s English surname is Wo, he is part of the Eng family clan.

Hock began washing dishes in Kau Kau’s kitchen in 1975, and his responsibilities grew. Remarkably, Wo has no plans to retire. Today, he’s typically at the counter, standing near a fresh row of glistening roast ducks and barbecue meats hanging in the window, ready with cleaver and chopping block to prepare exact orders of meat for customers.

Hock’s son, Randy Wo-Eng, has taken over day-to-day management of the restaurant. Randy, 42, has worked as head trader at Evergreen Gavekal, a financial trading firm. He is married to Seattle City Council member Tanya Woo. Hock’s two daughters are: Serena Wo-Eng, client service lead at Slalom Consulting, and Maureen Watanabe, senior accountant at Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Hock’s wife, Linda Eng, works at Costco Wholesale, where she’s been for 25 years.

“We told him he doesn’t have to come down anymore,” Randy said of his father, “but he wants to do it. He doesn’t have any hobbies. He takes care of the two grandkids, but he never wants to sit at home doing nothing. Before the pandemic, he came in five days a week. Then with the pandemic, he came in two days a week, then one day a week. But he never gave up his Sunday slot.”

Randy said he doesn’t intend to make any major changes at the restaurant beyond “modernizing” and establishing online ordering. The voluminous menu choices might be whittled down a bit, but winning staples—like the barbecue favorites—won’t be touched. 

Randy said his brief time at Kau Kau so far has been “a learning experience.”  Although he never worked with his dad when he was younger, he did hang out with him for a few hours regularly. Randy helped deliver Chinese wholesale goods for Choung Mei Co., a firm owned by his uncle. He also worked alongside the late Barry Mar as a coach for the Seattle Asian Sports Club.

Randy’s favorite selection? “Cha siu and rice is my go-to staple when I was growing up. It still is when I’m down here for Seahawks, Mariners and Sounders games.”

“My dad will remain the face of the business,” Randy said. “He’s been here for 50 years. More than anything else, we were interested in preserving the legacy for 50 more years—and even longer.”

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