Mandy Quon has one foot each in two worlds. On evenings and weekends, the 27-year-old is a manager at The Linganan, her family’s restaurant – actually, Family Restaurant, as in the name of the Food Network show that shadowed her family’s follies and feats operating a 64-year-old Chinese eatery. When spin-off show, The Quon Dynasty, premiering soon on Citytv, viewers will see her in cheongsams and silk tunics trudging through the packed isles of the newly-renovated restaurant (and through the diktat of her Tiger Mom, the almighty Amy Quon, a tough lady whose focus is on family above all else).
But hours before the cameras catch her serving kung pao chicken, she’s in a power suit managing marketing and sales for the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald.
She keeps her days and nights separate, starting with a closet on the east wall and another on the west wall of her bedroom. But she doesn’t see the working class and creative-class careers as polarizing. “It’s a very similar work ethic, trying to make people happy on a one-to-one level,” says Quon, a pendulous person who can enthuse about the show, the office and the deliciousness of a dumpling with equal vivacity. “I love the buzz,” she says.
In the last episode of Family Restaurant, you and your brother Miles were trying to modernize The Lingnan. How’s that going?
Well, we just got a computer and wireless Internet throughout. But we don’t have fax machines or intercom phones. Everything before was very painful. To be a server, you had to speak Chinese and English, and you had to be able to write in Chinese. So, my little brother [Marty] couldn’t be a server because he can’t write in Chinese. Now with the computer system, you punch in the English and it translates to Chinese writing. So the kitchen staff can read it, and now we can monitor how long someone has been waiting for their meals.
How has life changed since Family Restaurant?
It hasn’t changed much. The restaurant is so busy now; people come to see us from all over. But as people, we’re all still normal, we all still work. When I go out with my mom and my dad – the three of us – we get recognized a lot. When I’m alone, it’s not very common. But, I don’t know, some people say that all Asians look the same.
What are your childhood memories of the restaurant like?
I worked at the restaurant since I was 12. But prior to that, it was a big deal to go into the restaurant. It was my dad’s place of employment, his space. He had partners. It was a dream to go for dinner there in the dining room. We were so excited. The kids would dress up to go and we weren’t allowed to prance around. When I started working there when I was 12, I was only allowed to be in the back. I was taking phone orders and peeling pea pods. I couldn’t go past the kitchen. My dad was very strict, and he still is – no jeans allowed in the front room.
Who’s stricter, your mom, Amy, or dad, Kinman?
My dad for sure. He’s picky. My mom is picky as well. Like, if you’re not wearing nylons, you’re not allowed in the front room. Women must wear nylons, because pantyhose are ladylike. Sometimes I do show up without nylons and she will remind me how bad it is until I go buy a pair. I’ve been scared to show up at work because I’m not wearing nylons, so I’ll stop by Shoppers [Drug Mart] for a pair.
Was your dad hesitant about doing the show?
We thought he would be. He’s an extremely private person. But now the kids kind of rule the parents. So if the kids want to do it, my dad will do it. But for him, personally, he’s grown out of his shell. He’s more sociable, funny. He talks it up with people. I think he’s more excited about the show than the other family members.
Do you take after your mom?
I think so. We have customers who come in and say, “You look and you sound just like her – it’s a compliment!” It probably has to do with my mom raising us because my dad was working until night. But for me, business comes first,
and, for my mom, entertainment comes first. She’s the hostess.
What’s the best part of being a Quon?
We’re all quite smart and we work hard and have fun. We all have the same dream, we want to do well and we care about service.
What’s the hardest part about being a Quon?
If you talk with my boyfriend or my sisters-in-law, they’d say the Quons are very bossy.
Do you carry clothes with you for both jobs?
Sometimes I don’t know where my clothes are because I always have outfits at the restaurant, outfits at my office for the restaurant, outfits at The Lingnan for the office. They’re all over the place. Recently, my friend bought me travel packs to keep everything in place, so I’ve been using them like crazy.
Where do you shop?
I like Banana Republic and Club Monaco – they’ve made a comeback. I shop online, too, at Beyond the Rack. This tunic I’m wearing is from French Connection. I haven’t shopped there since I was very young, when it was a big deal to buy a FCUK dress. Just in the last few weeks I’ve gone back to the store.
Do you have go-to labels?
I really like Halston Heritage and Pink Tartan at The Bay in Southgate. Pink Tartan fits really well, it’s classic and it’s Canadian. I wear it more for Fairmont. I also think, when all else fails, I can never go wrong in a BCBG. I’m a perfect size-four in BCBG, no alterations needed.
Do you accessorize?
I love accessories. I’m really attracted to the Coco Chanel look. I like jewellery that’s bold. I’m not into charms.
How does your style match up to your mom’s?
My mom is flashy. She has a big Chinese collection. I think she’s bolder with colouring and her dresses. I’m a little bit more self-conscious.
Do you wear cheongsams?
My mom and I have beautiful Chinese dresses. We get ours custom-made in China. Recently I’ve been able to buy beautiful pieces in Vancouver. My mom probably has over 50, but that’s uncommon. The average Chinese lady probably has two or three just for special occasions like weddings. I have about four or five … that I like.
When your East Indian boyfriend takes you to a wedding on his side of the family, do you wear a sari?
Yes, I love saris. Anyone looks good in sari. And my boyfriend’s mom has a huge collection. I get some myself now as gifts, but I don’t know how to put it on. No idea what to do with it, so his mom usually dresses me.
Have you thought about what kind of wedding dress you’d want to wear? Cheongsam? Sari? Western white?
Well that’s assuming that I would get married! But I have thought about it and I definitely want a white dress. And I’m actually OK with a used dress or a rental. I mean, you only wear it once.
Are there Asian influences in your wardrobe?
I really like the Mandarin collar-look. Now it’s common to find a western style outfit with a Mandarin collar.
Can non-Chinese people pull that off?
I think so as long as you have a good body. For a Chinese cheongsam you have to be slim but not too slim, because the dress is cut straight. So you have to have all the right curves. It does look funny for ladies who don’t have much of a bum.
Are there Asian accessories that you infuse?
We [Chinese] love jade. It’s very fashionable and, for Chinese people, it’s a lucky charm to ward off evil. My mom had these really big jade pendants for us. Sometimes if I’m just wearing a casual T-shirt, I might also wear a big piece of jade.