The oldest independently run tofu shop in the U.S., Fong Inn Too, closed in January 2017 after selling products like rice cakes, rice noodles, turnip cake, and tofu to the neighborhood since the early 1930s. Now, the Eng family that ran the historic storefront has accused the new business at 46 Mott St. — where the original Fong Inn Too operated for many decades — of stealing the family brand.
Six months ago, a new tofu shop called Fong On NYC appeared in the space with signs saying that the business was “coming back.” But Fong On NYC has no real connection to Fong Inn Too or to the Eng family’s broader — and still functioning — retail and wholesale business known as Fong On, Inc. Paul Eng, one of four brothers involved in the business, says he believes the new store is deliberately trying to trick the public and capitalize on his family’s name.
According to Eng, Fong On NYC was, at one point, advertising that the store was opening with “the same products, the same food, and the same employees” as Fong Too Inn. Eng says he has friends and relatives who have walked past the new location and reported back to him that they do not recognize any of the employees. Eng hasn’t been able to pay a visit himself. “I can’t get myself to walk past the place because of my emotional connection to the place,” he tells Eater NY.
As for the similarity of products, Eng says that every product they are selling is a replica of his family’s products, adding that the new store is also replicating their packaging. The Eng family still owns a production facility and store at 80 Division St., which remained open after the Fong Inn Too closure but is currently closed for renovations. Eng says he expects the store to reopen in late spring or early summer.
The owner of Fong On NYC is John Yee, also an owner of Chinatown’s Joy Luck Palace, which recently closed to the public as retaliation against union workers. Yee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Eng family has already taken legal action against the new store, sending cease and desist letters to both the landlord and Yee. Eng says he is not sure where the case stands at this point, adding that he doesn’t believe it will be difficult to prove his family’s ownership of the brand.
“We have an 80-year history, and we’ve been written up in various books, magazines, and newspaper clippings,” he says. “This stuff should not happen. We’re in a modern age, and legal is legal, and moral is moral.”