Yening ‘Lupe’ Liang, owner of L.A.’s Hop Woo, dies at 61

Yening “Lupe” Liang, the chef and co-owner of Hop Woo BBQ & Seafood who wanted Cantonese cuisine to be accessible to all, and who is credited with being the first restaurateur in Chinatown to offer his menus in Spanish, died Sunday at the age of 61, his family announced.

For nearly three decades, diners of all backgrounds have been sitting down to lobster platters, noodles, spicy salt shrimp and sizzling beef until late into the night, with Liang cooking, and wife and co-founder Judy welcoming and serving guests. His years of cooking and conversing in Mexico inspired Liang to add Spanish to Hop Woo’s now-trilingual menu, signaling to L.A.’s Latin community that they were welcome.

Born into a family of farmers and cooks, including a mother who fed hundreds daily at a cafeteria, Liang began cooking at the age of 7 or 8 in Yan Ping, a village in China’s Guangdong province, according to an autobiographical book of recipes published in 2020. By the age of 11 he was cooking and caring for his younger siblings regularly, and at 15, he apprenticed in a Cantonese kitchen in Hong Kong. It was there that he began to learn the art of preserving and cooking meats in the siu laap style, which he would employ in his own Los Angeles restaurant decades later.

In 1978, Liang moved to Mexico to cook in and manage an uncle’s restaurant in Rosarito Beach, inspiring him to pursue his own dream of opening a restaurant. Rosarito had a lasting impact on his entrepreneurial path, his acquisition of Spanish and the recipes that would become some of Hop Woo’s more unusual and jalapeño-dotted dishes. Rosarito is also where he met Judy, his future wife and business partner, who had also emigrated from China.

A pedestrian walks past Hop Woo restaurant on Broadway in Chinatown on May 3. Co-founder Yening “Lupe” Liang, a figure in the community, died on Sunday, his family said.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

In the early 1980s the Liangs moved to Los Angeles, where the young chef worked in restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. The couple branched out with a place of their own in 1993. When Hop Woo opened, the operation was humble — a 1,000-square-foot restaurant with only eight tables — and was located near its current location on Broadway. The restaurant serving traditional Cantonese cuisine such as barbecued pork, roast duck, noodle soups and stir-fries became so popular that it expanded, eventually moving to its larger, present-day location and opening multiple outposts across Los Angeles (currently, the only location operated by the Liangs is in Chinatown).

Over the years Liang and his wife welcomed two daughters, Mary and Kelly, who continue to help run the restaurant and have worked to modernize Hop Woo’s offerings with vegan items; they also oversee merchandise, posting to social media and applying for pandemic-related relief grants.

A wake is planned for May 10 from 3 to 6 p.m. and a memorial service for May 11 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., both at Universal Chung Wah Funeral in Alhambra.

This story will be updated with additional information.

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