Ruby Lai

RubyLaiStillExports_kitchenChong Eng Tom opened a business account at Paducah Bank in 1958 when he opened his Chinese restaurant in Paducah. He was the first Chinese businessman in the community.
Today, his daughter, Ruby Lai, maintains that financial relationship of nearly half a century without reservations. (Oh, and you don’t need them at the restaurants!)

“They make me feel so special,” Ruby says with true warmth and sincerity. “They treat me like a queen {who wouldn’t like that?} and they have been really good friends to me.”

Ruby Lai and Paducah Bank share more than a corporate bank account—they share a way of life. “My father said that there is only one way to be successful with the business,” Ruby remembers. “Make sure we use only the best foods and we spend a little more on the good quality. And make sure that we treat everyone who comes to the restaurant like they are family.”

It has obviously been a successful business plan for Chong’s. It seems to be working for Paducah Bank as well. “They are so thoughtful. They sometimes call me and say, ‘Ruby, we’re closing early today. Do you need any change? Do you need to come in before we close?’ That is so exceptional to me.”

Ruby Lai is also exceptional. Now a 62-year-old mother of two and grandmother of four, she still puts in 15-16 hour days managing the restaurants alongside her daughter, Christina (a master degreed industrial engineer) and her son-in-law, William. Her son is a surgeon in Portland, Oregon. Her life has been a devotion to cooking, cleaning, serving, and setting a standard of hospitality that represents everything she learned at the hands
of her father and his associates.

Ruby and her husband, Wailand, operated a successful import/export business in Hong Kong until 1976 when she arrived on American soil for the first time. Ruby never once con- sidered making the restaurant business her work here. She trav- eled to both coasts and to Florida looking to implement the import and export of Chinese products, but there simply were no takers at the time. So Ruby accepted her father’s invitation to join him . . . in the kitchen.

Tommy, as her father came to be called around town, sent her to a friend’s establishment and asked him to put her to “wok.” Ruby says that within hours of her first foray into the friend’s Chinese kitchen, she had fried, rolled, sautéed, chopped, stirred, steamed, and stumbled (a few times) her way to a level of profi- ciency that even she found surprising.
“I learned quickly that you have to use the big spoons and move the fried rice quickly so that it doesn’t burn. And if you whip the eggs too long for egg foo yung, they are too watery,
and then you can’t let the grease get too hot or it will burn,” Ruby remembers. “In three days I was able to prepare the orders.” And the orders just kept coming.

Ruby and Wailand purchased the former Mr. Bill’s Seafood Restaurant in Reidland and opened their first Chong’s in September 1976. By 1980, the ethnic eatery was so popular that on weekends, people waited in line and parking was scarce. Wailand returned to Hong Kong, sold the import/export business, and used the proceeds to buy the former Kountry Kitchen on Jackson Street. It became the second Chong’s.

The Lais made their biggest move in 1994 when they purchased land from Wal-Mart for their third establishment, the 300-seat Chong’s in the mall area.
Despite her family’s urgings to take some time for herself, Ruby says she would prefer to stay busy. “I’m not a gardener. I don’t like shopping and I don’t want to sit there watching TV. I’m a businesswoman.”

Chong’s restaurants employ nearly 100, including more than 20 Chinese cooks whom Ruby has recruited directly from Hong Kong, New York, and San Francisco over the years. Hard work comes naturally to Ruby who says many people wonder why she doesn’t return to her native Hong Kong to retire.
“I never think about my age. I’m lucky. People are really friendly to me and they love me,” she says. “This is my home now and I’m not going anywhere.”
And Paducah Bank is her bank—of obvious long-standing.

Ruby Lai began her career exporting goods to the United States from her homeland of China. And she’s still doing some quality exporting as we speak. Every day Ruby delivers excellent Chinese fare to people she considers her friends.