Joe Gan Family

Joe Gan

Joe Gan came to Windsor in 1930 from Canton, China. He took passage on an old steamer in the bottom hold for $36. He had dreams, but with little money and no English he realized work would be all but impossible to find, unless it was in a Chinese restaurant or hotel that needed his services. After few desperate weeks and some hopeless days he found work at a night club called Mandarin Gardens. This second floor establishment was located on Ouellette Avenue south of University Avenue. He was hired as a short order cook, dish washer, janitor, and bar tender. He eventually bought one third interest in the restaurant. This was his first investment in Windsor and he sold it four years later. He had vivid memories of those days as if they were yesterday he recalled with a smile, “twelve hour days were short days”.

He went back to China in 1932 for a couple of years and then returned to Windsor for good. He had many friends here and many recall the days when he owned the Hotel Commodore and Gan’s Restaurant on Pitt Street or Jo-Lim’s on Riverside Drive; all of which nearly date back to the Depression. His entrepreneurship also saw him as owner of Lakewood Golf Course, the Mai Mai Restaurant on Ouellette Avenue, and operating the food and spirits concession at Roseland Golf Club.

Joe Gan counted among his many friends Mr. Pulling the owner of the Prince Edward Hotel, Paul Martin Sr., and Gordon Stewart. His anecdotes were as many as they were diverse, but recalled two which were memorable: hiring a contractor whose brother was a bank robber and being given free tickets to the 1967 World Series won by the Detroit Tigers.

When the Hotel Commodore came available in the early thirties it only had a bar upstairs. His friend Mr. Pulling helped him, he recalls the basement as just an empty cellar and he couldn’t understand why the owner hadn’t turned it into a bar. All he needed were some tables, chairs and a bar cooling system. A small loan was paid off within a few weeks as business was so good. The Commodore was located just east of Ouellette on Chatham Street, and Saturday afternoon jazz added to the Commodore’s renaissance. Joe recalled those were the days, when ladies needed an escort to gain entrance to a beer parlor and when only one glass of beer could be served at a time. The Hotel Commodore underwent renovations inside and out and officially opened as a grill on October 19, 1939. This dining and dance spot specialized in seafood dishes and its marquis read Hotel Commodore Sea Food Grill.

After a few years Joe Gan desired a smaller restaurant and lounge. Joe sold the Lakewood Golf Club and his concessions interests at Roseland Golf Club. Wanting to return to Riverside Drive and Pitt Street where a small Chinatown was emerging, Joe bought a restaurant called Chung Hi Restaurant and renamed it Jo-Lim’s. Ironically, the former business was located on the site of Le Goyeau Apartments where he lived. Although, the 1930’s were rough, Joe Gan found the words to express and live those dreams. In the end his life was filled with friendships, anecdotes and numerous successes.