Back in the Fifties and Sixties, my family sometimes dined at a Chinese restaurant called the Mandarin Inn, which was as well-known for its steaks as it was for its Chinese food. There were also several other popular Chinese restaurants on the north side of Indianapolis at that time, including Lotus Garden and Jong Mea. Can you provide any information about these establishments? ~ Ralph Drybrough, Tucson, Arizona
Most people who lived on the north side of Indianapolis in the second half of the 20th century were familiar with one or more (usually more!) of the Chinese restaurants in the area. There were not as many options for dining out in those days as there are now, so the Indianapolis eateries that did exist enjoyed considerable popularity. They were family-owned businesses, typically employing multiple generations of the same clan, as well as their extended relations and friends of the families. In addition to dine-in facilities, the Chinese restaurants were famous for their take-out service, long before restaurants with other kinds of cuisines got on board with carry-out.
The Mandarin Inn was located in the Ma-Co Building on the southeast corner of E. 38th Street and N. College Avenue. The original name of 38th Street was Maple Road, so the Art Deco building got its name from the first two letters of the intersecting streets, Maple and College. The Ma-Co Building was the subject of a “Then and Now” article by Joan Hostetler back in 2011, which you can read by clicking here.
The earliest city directory in which I could find the Mandarin Inn listed was the 1945 edition. According to that entry, the Mandarin Inn was operated by Harry K. June. The directory listing did not indicate whether he was the owner or a manager. In the early 1950s, the Mandarin Inn was managed by Daniel M. Lee, who later opened his own restaurant a couple of miles way, called the Lotus Garden. By the late 1950s, the Mandarin Inn had been purchased by Edward, Henry, and Paul Cheung. Other persons associated with the Mandarin Inn over the years were Stanley Cheung, Frank Young, Allen Wong, and Wong Man Ching.
The elder Cheungs had previously operated a restaurant in the Stone Hotel, whose address was listed in Indianapolis city directories of the 1950s as being at 237 South McCrea Street. That address does not exist today, but it appears to have been located in the building now known as One Jackson Square. The current tenant on the first floor, where the Cheungs’ previous restaurant was located, is Ike & Jonesy’s. The Stone Hotel was originally called Hotel Spink, when it was built in 1924.
The Mandarin Inn ceased operation in the late 1980s. The Ma-Co Building was demolished in about 1992, despite protests by people in the Mapleton-Fall Creek and Meridian-Kessler neighborhoods. The unique building was replaced by a typical, modern-day, freestanding Walgreens store. Coincidentally (or perhaps ironically), the Ma-Co Building’s primary tenant when it first opened back in 1930 had been Walgreen Drugs.
Another popular Chinese restaurant that appeared mid-century was the Lotus Garden, which was located in the Town & Country Shopping Center. The restaurant had an address of 4424 Allisonville Road, but most people accessed it through the parking lot from the 4400 block of North Keystone Avenue. The land on which the shopping center was built was formerly owned by the Hammond family, whose Hammond’s Grove, a park that was adjacent to Fall Creek, was the subject of a previous HI Mailbag column in March.
The Lotus Garden opened in 1953. It was originally owned by Lee Chow Yee, Daniel M. Lee, and William Taw. Daniel Lee had been the manager of the Mandarin Inn in the years just prior to striking out on his own. Yee’s son Hauk Yee and Daniel’s son Lum Lee were also involved. In later years, William Taw, Jr., assumed management of the Lotus Garden. A second and third location of Lotus Garden were opened in Greenwood and in Carmel. The Greenwood restaurant is the only one that is still in operation today, but the original families are no longer involved in the business.
The original Lotus Garden in the Town & Country Shopping Center closed about 1999. Other businesses have occupied that site since the Lotus Garden left, but the building is currently vacant.
Jong Mea was located at 2137 N. Meridian Street. Its founder and first president was Irving Chin. Later generations of the Chin family, including Hank Chin, Susan Chin, and Edward K. Chin were involved in the restaurant’s operations.
The Chin family also owned Jong Mea restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, and Mansfield, Ohio. According to Irving’s granddaughter, Lani Chin, who now lives in San Francisco, California, the first Jong Mea was established in Columbus, Ohio, in 1951. The Indianapolis restaurant opened a few years later.
When she was young, Lani Chin’s parents told her that “Jong Mea” meant “Chinese American,” but she says she later learned that it can roughly be translated as “Midwest.” In either case, the name fit. Lani Chin also reports that the Indianapolis location of Jong Mea closed in 1998.
The building that once housed the Jong Mea Chinatown Restaurant also met the wrecking ball. The former Jong Mea site remains a vacant lot today.
If any readers have memories of the Mandarin Inn, Lotus Garden, Jong Mea Chinatown Restaurant, or other northside Chinese Restaurants you’d like to share, please comment below this article. If anyone has photos of these establishments or any memorabilia such as menus, coasters, or matchbooks, HistoricIndianapolis.com would appreciate having copies or scans of them.