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Mandarin Garden – 1927 – 1933

Throughout the years of looking at old postcards, and old newspapers, starting in the mid 1920s , I would often come across ads for the Mandarin Garden, or see the distinctive multi storey sign near Ouellette & University in postcards or pictures of downtown.

In late December, 1926, an article appeared in the paper, announcing that the Gan brothers, well known restaurateurs of Ottawa & Brockville, would be coming to Windsor to launch the Mandarin Garden and that it would be “one of the most pretentious cafes in Ontario”. The Gan brothers had signed a long term lease on the second and third floors of what was then known as the Regent Building, with the building’s Detroit owners.

Local architects Jacques & Allaster were hired to design the 9,000 square foot cafe space. There was also to be a 500 square foot, polished maple dance floor on the third floor. The second floor could seat 250 guests. Leading from the street entrance was to be a stairway laid with antique marble. The plans called for “check rooms, a lounge with chesterfields and wing chairs, retiring rooms and an orchestra stage.” Plans also called for Mahogany furniture of “special design”, oriental wall coverings, decorative plaster work on the ceilings and “French windows of leaded English art glass” to open onto Ouellette avenue. A chef from one of “Chicago’s leading hotels” was being brought in to take charge of the kitchen.

A view of the main dining room at the cafe’s opening in 1927.

Here is an interior view of Mandarin Garden, Windsor’s new $100,000 cafe, occupying two floors in the Auditorium building, Ouellette avenue. The picture shows the main floor, which is sumptuously finished in French Renaissance ornamental period plaster with beautiful polychrome effects. On the walls are 23 French imported silk tapestry panels. The hangings are of rose-colored velvet with gold monograms. at the rear is seen the stage, providing accommodation for a six-piece orchestra. Immediately in front of it is a spring dance floor, 18 by 32 feet in dimensions.

Opening on Saturday, April 30, 1927 at 10:30 in the morning, the new cafe was opened to the pubic. Built at a cost of $100,000 (equivalent to $1.5 million in 2020 dollars) the restaurant was said to be the finest in all of Canada, with “nothing to surpass it in Detroit”. The Mandarin Garden was the brain child of three brothers, Joseph Gan, Joe Gain and Joe Sim, of Ottawa. The three in their early 30s had all been in Canada since the early 1900s. They also owned two cafes in Ottawa, The Star and The Paris, as well as the Island City Cafe in Brockville. They had a cousin named Joe Lung in Detroit, who operated the King Wah Lo cafe, which was described as ‘Detroit’s leading restaurant and cabaret”.

Joe Gan had come to Windsor several months earlier to supervise the extensive renovations. The entrance was describe as being “most impressive”. Constructed of massive limestone columns, surmounted by a stone balcony, and approached through French doors from the main floor of the cafe.

The main floor (second floor) was 48 feet by 92 feet, with an 18 x 32 foot dance floor at the rear of the room, along with a stage to hold a six piece orchestra. This main floor had seating for 200. The 3rd floor held a private banquet hall, with a small dance floor, along with the kitchens. The kitchens were noted to have “special ranges for Chinese dishes, chop suey, chow mein and the like” and will be under control of a chef from Chicago, as well as rages for Canadian & American dishes, which was under the direction of Mark Lung, who until his move to Windsor was the chef at the Vancouver Hotel in Vancouver, “one of the most famous hotels in the world”.

Tall pillars of Indiana limestone, surmounted by a stone balcony with an ornamental iron railing, feature the entrance of Mandarin Garden, the new $100,000 Oriental cafe which is making its bow to the Border Cities today. The above picture shows the front of the Auditorium building, Ouellette avenue, in which the cafe is housed. It occupies the second and third storeys. The entrance is seen at the left. Windows on the second floor have been fitted with heavy leaded beveled plate glass, with ornamental floor boxes on the sills. Mandarin Garden is said to be the finest cafe of its kind in Canada.

The restaurant advertised heavily, and browsing through newspapers of the time would often lead to advertisements for the restaurant, such as the one above from 1928, trying to attract diners after a day at the race track. $1.25 in 1928 is equal to about $19.00 in 2020.

A selection of different ads found in the paper over the years, the one in the middle of the bottom row dates to December, 1931 and the middle of the great depression, which caused the restaurant to slash prices on the menu as well as the introduction of a policy not expecting gratuities.

Things started to unravel for the Mandarin Garden early in 1933. At the end of January, the architect A Stuart Allaster won a court case, in which he had sued the owners over unpaid fees dating back to 1927. A argued that he had be retained to draw up the alterations to the building, as well as supervise the furnishing and decorating of the restaurant. The judge agreed with Mr. Allaster, and his claim for an additional $2,417.29 (equivalent to about $46,000 in 2020), plus 8% interest dating back to 1927.

On November 23, 1933, The Mandarin Garden, was officially declared bankrupt.


Mandarin Gardens Makes Assignment; Has No Assets

The Mandarin Gardens, 319 Ouellette avenue, has made an authorized assignment, listing liabilities of $4,630 [about $89,000 in 2020] and no assets. This better class restaurant went out of business on November 12.

The Mandarin Gardens was opened in Windsor in 1927 by three brothers, Joe Gan, Joe Gain and Joe Sim, Chinese. Mr. Gan declares that when they started they had $55,000 of their own money as capital.

Mr. Sim withdrew from the partnership in 1929, and hos two brothers assumed his interest in the business. Two years later Mr. Gain withdrew, without having gained much beyond experience, and Mr. Gan carried on.

High overhead resulting from the size of the premises, the rents under the lease, and the business depression, are given by Mr. Gan as the reason for the restaurant’s failure.

The lure of the restaurant space was too much for others, as Peter’s Grill opened in the space on December 20, 1933, a little over a month after the Mandarin Garden closed. Peter didn’t have too much luck, as by October 30, 1935, the Old Madrid Cafe opened up in the space.

The building carried on for many years, with Zellers eventually occupying the building. They moved out of the building in December, 1967, and the building was eventually demolished, with a new United Trust Bank Branch opening on the site in early 1973. This building was most recently the Boom Boom Room, and it is today vacant.

Joe Gan, (photo at left from 1986) who was the owner and manager of the Mandarin Garden, ended up hanging around Windsor, and became a fixture on the local dining scene, owning over the years, the Commodore Hotel (now Alley Katz), Gan’s Restaurant (on Pitt St), Jo-Lim’s (Riverside & Goyeau), Lakewood Golf Club (Tecumseh) and the Mai-Mai (Ouellette). He also ran at one time, the food and spirits concession at Roseland Golf Course. He passed away at age 92 on May 15, 1990. He was buried at Greenlawn Memorial Park Cemetery.

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