Kitty Mei learned just about everything she needed to know about America by working at a restaurant.
The Stockton native – who landed her first job at a Chinese restaurant in Manteca – jumped at the chance to go shadow the best friend of her husband Wayne during his day-to-day work at his Chinese-American Café on Stockton’s Miracle Mile.
She knew no English. She knew absolutely nothing about American food.
But with a willingness to learn and with the help of patient customers that taught her new words every day, it was only a matter of time before Mei was churning out hamburgers and having conversations about everyday life.
So when the opportunity finally presented itself and she got the chance to open her own Chinese-American dining spot in a town she had come to love, Mei jumped in with both feet.
Kitty’s Kitchen was born.
“What I realized about Chinese restaurants is that a lot of times parents want to eat there but the kids don’t want that. They want a hamburger and fries,” she said. “I know this because I have four kids and when my mother wants to go to dinner, they’re not happy. But when we go to an American restaurant, she’s not happy.
“This is that place for families where everybody can be happy. That’s what we wanted to do.”
And Mei wants to shatter the misconception that Chinese food can’t be healthy.
Too many people, she said, think that the high level of MSG (a food preservative that some people might sensitive to) and food cooked in heavy oil have to be standards of Chinese fare.
By using lighter oils, cutting out the fat and taking heavy preservatives out of the equation, Mei says that she has come up with a menu that customers can not only enjoy but eat without worry or concern – adding the kind of peace of mind that most don’t associate with the style of food.
With a husband that has a background as a butcher, Mei says that the restaurant only uses the choicest cuts of meat for their dishes and incorporates fresh produce whenever possible – all prepared in a kitchen that occasionally includes her father and a master cook that has experience working at four-star hotels.
While she might not have fulfilled her first dream – marrying rich – Mei laughs and says that she’s happy fulfill the other that has been in the planning stages for some time.
“I’m just happy to see the customers happy. This isn’t about making money for me – I like being able to talk with the families when they come in,” she said. “We’ve talked about doing this for a long time now, and we finally found the place. I’m happy here.”
Kitty’s Kitchen is located at 532 N. Main Street, and is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For additional information call (209) 823-8839.