It’s the final day of business for Chinatown’s Fong Inn Too run by the Eng family, which has made rice cakes, rice noodles, turnip cake, and tofu for the neighborhood since the early 30s. It’s one of the oldest, if not the oldest family-run retail tofu shop in the U.S.
Jeremiah Moss of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York reports the closing with a walk-thru of the space, where workers make tofu and rice cakes on one level and rice noodles on another. The shop’s rice cakes are sought-after as offerings for the dead. As customers have been asking Paul Eng where they will get their rice cake for the next cemetery visit, Moss wrote that Eng says he really doesn’t know.
In 2008 for the shop’s 75th anniversary, David Eng told the neighborhood paper, Downtown Express, when his grandparents, Wun Hong and Kim Young took over the business in the 1950s, turning soybeans into tofu was laborious in that it took 12 hours to process 300 pounds of soybeans. “They would boil the soybeans in a bulky vat under a gas burner before pouring them in a large cheesecloth bag that they used bamboo sticks to compress so as to drain the tofu.”
In the factory on Division Street (now closed) the business could process 2,400 pounds of soybeans a day, which made about 10,000 squares of tofu. WNYC reported that in 2011, it made tofu for 80 distributors, each of which supplied to around 16 restaurants in the city.
Declining sales due to gentrification, as well as the death of several family members in the last decade have led the family to sell the building at 46 Mott St. There is no next generation to take the helm and the identity of the neighborhood is in transition.
“This old section of Chinatown is kind of orphaned off,” Paul Eng told Moss. “It doesn't know where it's going to be."