AAP staff report
Approximately 350 people attended a burial service for Leann Chin on March 27, 2010 at Normandale Lutheran Church in Edina. She was interned following at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.Chin, 77, an entrepreneur who founded Leann Chin, Inc., a successful restaurant chain and Asian foods producer for groceries, author of cookbooks, host of a PBS cooking series, and noted philanthropist as the Leann Chin Foundation, died March 10, 2010 on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington. According to her family, she had suffered complications from liver cancer.
Chin was preceded in death by her spouse Tony in 1994, and is survived by five children, Linda (Sanford), Bill (Esther), Laura (David), Jean (William) and Katie (Matthew) and 11 grandchildren.
Lee Wai-Hing was born on February 13, 1933 in Guangzhou, China and her family would later flee Communist China for Hong Kong. She would marry Tony Chin and had a daughter by 1956 when the couple immigrated to Minnesota.
A pioneering and multi-tasking mother, China raised five children as she worked as a seamstress. As the demand for Cantonese cuisine was growing she began a sideline as a caterer and then began teaching Chinese cooking classes in homes, businesses and community centers.
Chin opened her first restaurant in 1980 in the Bonaventure Mall in Minnetonka. It was popular for its food and dynamic owner. She was said to have boundless energy and a contagious good spirit and work ethic. The restaurant chain grew into a franchise that has around 52 locations in the Midwest.
General Mills published Leeann Chin recipes as Betty Crocker’s Chinese Cookbook, and would eventually make a deal with Chin to buy her name. She would continue in other ventures through the 1990s as Leeann Chin Inc., for a while establishing Asia Grille and bottling various Asian sauces for Byerly’s and Lund’s supermarkets.
Chin was a life-long philanthropist and started the Leeann Chin Foundation in 1995. She supported the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, Organization of Chinese Americans, Scout Council, Committee of 100, WAMSO and the College of Saint Benedict. She was also a member of the Chinese Senior Citizens Society.
“Leeann was a strong woman and I could see her grow into a true professional as her business expanded,” said Ivy Chang, a long time friend and associate. “When I first met her, she was quite shy, but in later years, she took the lead in everything she did. She served on many non-profit boards because she was concerned about people and communities.”
In a March 3, 1995 Asian American Press story by In-Fin Tuan, Chinn spoke of her story to students at Minneapolis Technical College for a Women’s History Month event.
Chin told that class that she attributed any success to being blessed for her hard work. She said it began night English classes at night at the old Minneapolis Vocational School. She recalled also taking swing classes during the day.
It was a time when all that was expected of her was to be a good wife and mother, Chin said to the class. Despite this, she said that in America she was empowered and felt obligated to learn a new English and new working skills and to find a job.
Chin described the 1960s as a balance of being a homemaker to her husband and children, running her businesses and taking her classes. There wasn’t time to dwell on anything, she said, and she wasn’t looking for people to help her. She didn’t have a car and bought her groceries taking several trips on the bus.
“If you want to do something and you want to do it well, just go and do it. Even when I was really little I never asked for anything.”
Chin said the experience proved to her that she could accomplish anything that she set her mind to do, and that it took a strong and independent drive to overcome a husband that did not have that much confidence in her ambitions and was not as supportive as she would have liked. She found support from her children who have all since achieved success in their own right as a doctor, lawyer, professor, and a senior vice-president at Twentieth-Century Fox.
“It goes to show that you can have anything you want to,” said Chin.