Restaurateur and owner of Tong Fong Low, the popular Oroville Chinese restaurant that has been in operation since 1912, Brian Wong has deep roots in the city. As a teenager, he spent weekends and summers peeling shrimp, making noodles, bussing tables, and washing dishes at the family-owned restaurant. Today, Wong continues the family tradition, along with his sister and business partner Sandy, as he invests in Oroville’s revitalization efforts.
How did you find yourself in Oroville? What made you stay?
I found myself in Oroville as a teenager in the late 1980s when my parents were the proud new operators of Tong Fong Low Restaurant. I was going to high school in San Francisco and spent many weekends and summers peeling shrimp, making noodles, bussing tables, and washing dishes to help with the family business. The family was very happy to see me each weekend, when I delivered Chinese vegetables and other supplies from the city. We had a family friend named Chet Ramesy, who we adopted as a grandpa. He would take me out fishing, gathering wild berries and figs (he called it “grazing”), and driving on some of the most beautiful scenic trails that I had ever seen. During our drives, Chet would know every feature of the terrain. He would point out all the wild animals and birds that we would encounter. Chet would also reminisce about the movie stars that he met here in Oroville, like Roy Rogers who almost brought a ranch on the side of Table Mountain, as well as Elizebeth Taylor, Philip Burton, Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, and etc. These outings with Chet left deep impressions in my mind about the beauty and magnificence of Oroville.
In the late 1990s, I had already graduated from UC Davis as a mechanical engineer, continuing further education in Santa Clara University for an MBA. I had been working for 4 years for FMC Corporation in San Jose, California. As I was driving to work one day, traffic was horrible as usual. I started calculating the amount of time that I would loose in my lifetime to traffic. With certain assumptions made, the result was over 7 years sitting inside my car going nowhere fast. Questions also arose on where I would start my family with my long term girlfriend, now wife, Louisa. After some contemplation, I was ready to come home to Oroville and learn about the family business.
Describe Oroville to someone who has never been here.
Oroville is a beautiful historic small city that sits on the banks of the Feather River, surrounded by four bodies of water (Lake Oroville, Diversion Pool, Forebay, and Afterbay). It is also the gateway to the beautiful Plumas National Forest within the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range to the east. The pristine Table Mountain with its vibrant colorful wildflowers is to the north. Rice fields with colors that change with the seasons to the west. Fruit and nut orchards, growing in rich loam soil, abound to the south.
The people here in Oroville are warm and friendly. We frequently shout out a friendly “hello” to each other whether we know them or not. We have a habit of letting cars into traffic in front of us. There’s no rush to get anywhere. We are already here.
What is the best-kept secret in Oroville? Why?
For me, the best kept secret about Oroville is our diversity. We have many Native American friends. Other friends that are fifth generation in Oroville that trace their family back to England, Scotland, Ireland. Others are from Italy, Greece, Denmark, Germany, and other European Countries. My Chinese culture has had a presence here going back to the mining days. We also have many friends from our large African American community as well as Hispanic communities. Most recently, the Hmong People have joined this community and are friends and co-workers as well. There are friends from India, the Middle East, Argentina, and other countries. We all came looking for gold or other opportunities. However, each ethnicity has brought its own art, food, and culture that is a part of Oroville and the surrounding communities now. In the graduating class of 2019 in Oroville High School, the graduation ceremony was given both in English and Hmong. It brought tears to my eyes in seeing the hard work that the first generation Hmong People had put in to get the second generation through high school and into college, a story similar to my own and many others.
What is your favorite season in Oroville? Why?
My favorite season in Oroville is definitely the fall. I enjoy watching sunsets, in awe of the beauty that nature gives us each day. Some fall sunsets are bright golden streaks where the sun slides away between the coast range and the gloomy clouds. Another day, the sun will slip away unnoticed until that last few minutes where it casts a glowing rustic burgundy up on the clouds in the sky. It’s like what Forrest Gump’s mom said about that box of chocolate, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” It’s beautiful each day.
What are your favorite places in Oroville to show out-of-town visitors?
I like to drive friends through downtown and tell them about the history behind the beautiful historic buildings. For friends that like hunting and fishing, I take them to Hungtington’s Sportsman’s Store, which is the best traditional family-owned hunting and fishing store. I take friends to the Chinese Temple and show them an impressive collections of Chinese art and history that is part of Oroville. For friends that like to hike and meditate, Bald Rock is a must-do. For my car and motorcycle friends, I take them through the Feather River Canyon. For city friends, I like to take them grazing on wild berries and fruit near the base of Table Mountain. For friends that like to eat, I take them back to our 107 year old restaurant and play with food.
If someone only had one day to spend in Oroville, what would you recommend they do?
In the morning, I would recommend that they start the day off with an adventure. This could be panning for gold on the river (Yes! There’s still gold in there!), kayaking, fishing on the many bodies of water, mountain biking along the many trails along the river, hiking on Table Mountain, boating in the lake, visiting the museums or just a scenic drive along the beautiful country roads and snapping pictures of horses, cows, goats, turkeys, deer, eagles, and other interesting animals. For lunch, I would suggest that they get back to town and check out the locals’ favorite restaurants and watering holes. After lunch, visit the historic downtown that house many interesting gift or clothing stores. Visit the jewelry stores and antique shops have many pieces full of local history and unique to our area. Treat yourself to a massage from one of the many wellness providers that have been taking care of locals and Camp Fire victims. Before sunset, drive up to the dam or find a good viewing spot for sunset. Get back to town for dinner while enjoying local musicians, or visit two of the best casinos for dinner and entertainment.