Flashback Friday: Local restaurateur icon Leeann Chin born this week in 1933
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The name Leeann Chin is as ubiquitous of a name as any in the realm of fast-casual eateries of the Twin Cities.
The matriarch of the operation was born on Feb. 13, 1933, in Guangzhou, China. The daughter of a grocery store owner, Chin married her husband Tony and moved to Hong Kong for a few years before eventually immigrating to the United States and settling in Minnesota in 1957.
Leann was a seamstress who worked out of her basement and would cook up dishes for some of her clients.
At the behest of one of her clients, Chin began a catering business out of her basement. The catering operation was so successful that it eventually attracted the investment of former Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad and James Bond himself, Sean Connery. Due to the influx of investment money, Chin was able to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant at the Bonaventure Mall in Minnetonka. She named the restaurant after herself: Leeann Chin.
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The restaurant, one of the first to feature traditional Chinese dishes in Minnesota, would go on to have great success. The sit-down restaurant became so popular that Chin decided to convert it to buffet-style to keep up with customer demand for her food.
Leeann Chin would go on to open multiple other locations before deciding to sell the rights to her name and restaurant to General Mills in 1985. However, she decided to regain ownership of the business again in 1988.
The family would go on to sell the chain again in 2007 after opening many more locations.
Leeann Chin passed away in 2010 from an illness.
Today, Leeann Chin is owned by Lorne Goldberg and boasts more than 50 locations, the vast majority being in Minnesota.