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How Family-Run Noodle Business Yuen Hop Co. Has Endured for Nine Decades in Oakland’s Chinatown

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The Quan family knows something about what it takes to keep a family business alive: Over nine decades, they’ve built a business in Oakland’s Chinatown known as the place to buy noodles in the East Bay. Step inside, under the sun-washed kelly green awnings, and you’ll find all the classic cues of a bustling family business: children dashing between shelves, neighbors calling each other by name. Entire lives are lived inside the store.

Quan family patriarch and Chinese immigrant Quong Pon opened Yuen Hop Co. to sell his bean sprouts and fresh tofu. That was in 1931 before the neighborhood experienced the explosion of local markets it is today and before the Golden Gate or Bay Bridges even existed. The market has gradually expanded its selection, offering a variety of products – including Asian specialties like bitter melon and gnarled fresh lotus root – as well as other grocery and pantry items, and, of course, , noodles. The family acquired a second space nearby to accommodate noodle production, and eventually noodles became the main business. Today, the large-scale Asian grocery store, produce market, and noodle distributor offers rice and egg noodles, wonton wrappers, and dumpling skins in a range of styles and shapes that are turning the head. Yuen Hop now sells around 20 different types of noodles, eight of which are made in the family factory down the street.

Brandon Borman

Sabrina Cribbin, the fourth-generation great-granddaughter of Pon and Quan, is the current co-director of the noodle market and factory that supplies local chefs, food retailers including Berkeley Bowl, and Bay Area home cooks with fluffy egg noodles, made fresh daily. She hopes the younger generation will understand the depth of the struggle involved in starting the business – and sustaining it over the years. “They worked so hard, seven days a week, with no holidays or breaks,” she says, recounting how her great-grandfather immigrated from Guangzhou, China, to California for a better future. He left behind his 23-year-old wife and young son, sending money to support them. His son eventually followed, joining the US Army. And nearly four decades after her husband’s first trip, Quong’s wife was able to move to Oakland. “I remember them sitting together in the store, chatting and smoking cigarettes,” Cribbin says. “It was always the gathering place.”

Brandon Borman

Perhaps because of these memories, Cribbin associates the Chinese meaning of the market name with the concept of family reunion. But her 84-year-old mother, Sylvia Quan, owner and still present daily in the shop, kindly corrects her. “Yuen” means “round,” which refers to coins or money, and “hop” means “together,” Quan explains. “So that really translates to all the money flowing together, or good business.”

Cribbin’s father, David Quan, died in 2019. But she still remembers him running the bean sprout operation when she was a child. “You’d have to wake up in the middle of the night to water them,” she says – although her father eventually designed an irrigation system to handle the work so the family could sleep more. Likewise, years later, he designed the company’s noodle production machinery, customizing equipment he found in Malaysia.

The signature egg noodles are a local favorite for a reason. “We don’t skimp on ingredients,” Cribbin says, revealing that only “real eggs,” flour, salt, and water make up the dense noodles that Yuen Hop Co. is known for. These noodles also make Killer Garlic Noodles, an enduring example of Asian fusion cuisine believed to have originated in the 1970s with San Francisco restaurateur Helene An. The version Cribbin and his mother make is a balanced treat for the crowd, taking advantage of fish sauce, oyster sauce and parmesan cheese for an umami punch.

It is this commitment to quality and generations of hard work that earned Yuen Hop a special honor from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in 2017 as an Oakland Legacy Company, recognition that it is of one of the oldest family businesses in the city. “It was pretty cool for the family,” Cribbin says, referring to the party at City Hall and other notable winners, including chef-restaurateur Tanya Holland, owner of the former Brown Sugar Kitchen.

After her own career in real estate, Cribbin returned to the family business in her late 40s to help her parents. It was 12 years ago. Today, nearly a century into Yuen Hop Co.’s history, family members have passed away and the neighborhood has moved on, but the sixth generation still occasionally roams its alleys. Cribbin’s four-year-old granddaughter is like “the queen bee” when she arrives, she says. “She pretends to do the grocery shopping and says ‘hello’ in Chinese to customers,” Cribbin shares. “She loves it here, and everyone loves her.”

Cribbin and Quan describe how the environment has changed around them in recent years, the pressures of the pandemic in particular adding new challenges to an already demanding lifestyle. Whether the history of Yuen Hop Co. will persist for the next hundred years seems uncertain. But Cribbin welcomed a new granddaughter into the world just a few months ago, and the noodles were plentiful at the red egg and ginger party celebrating her arrival. It’s natural to wonder how long it will be before the baby can taste the family heirloom for himself. “I hope [the younger generations] realizing how hard their ancestors worked to get to where we are now,” says Quan, expressing his thanks for the market’s loyal customers over the years. “I want them to know that it’s so important to always work hard, be kind to people and take care of your family.”

Brandon Borman

824 Webster Street, CA 94607
(510) 451-2698

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