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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Vintage Ming Wah sign is back up thanks to thousands of dollars donated

UPDATED: Wed., May 5, 2021

The vintage sign for Ming Wah pointed the way to the Chinese American restaurant again Tuesday after more than a year out of commission.

The midcentury modern sign tumbled in April 2020 as its rusty base gave way during a windstorm. Replacing it cost close to $40,000, Ming Wah owner Kam Kwong said Tuesday.

Despite the pandemic’s toll on restaurants, the neon is burning again.

As soon as it fell, Kwong promised to get the sign up “no matter what.”

Spokane artist Chris Bovey – who dined with his future wife at Ming Wah for their first date and later depicted the sign in his art – set up a GoFundMe for community members to assist in the cost. The fundraiser pulled in more than $15,000, enough to allow insurance to cover the rest of the sign’s repairs, which meant replacing the entire bottom post.

“I’m really happy that Spokane cares enough about this kind of preservation. That speaks volumes to me,” Bovey said. “At the end of the day, it wasn’t Kam (Kwong), it wasn’t me, it was Spokane that got the sign back up.”

Kwong has owned Ming Wah since the 1990s, but the restaurant opened in 1966 under the name “Gung Ho,” which advertised images of the mod sign on matchbooks. The restaurant became Ming Wah in 1977, when a Chinese American father and his son took over.

Bovey said a sign like Ming Wah’s is just as valuable as historic buildings, as a relic of a bygone era that placed more emphasis on artfully shaped and lighted signs.

Kwong said he wasn’t that surprised by the outpouring of support.

“I expect a lot of people love it because a lot of customers, they say, ‘Kam, why don’t you do something and put it back?’ ”

Ming Wah is a family restaurant and almost all of Kwong’s staff are his family members. Liz Bovey, Chris’s wife, said besides the food, the thing she loves most about the restaurant is Kwong’s dynamic with his wife, which involves some good-natured “hollering” back and forth.

“I think there is a value in a sign being a landmark, instead of just a box sign, you know the Ming Wah sign and you’ve probably grown up with it,” Bovey said.

Bovey’s son Jonas, 15, has grown up with the sign, as the family continues to visit the restaurant that brought his parents together.

Bovey said he looks forward to seeing the neon burn after dark.

“You just don’t see them kicking out new signs in this style,” he said.

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