Grace and Kokdjen Su exemplify "melting pot" ideal at China Gorge

By Emil Asinjo

“We haven’t added a hot pot to our menu yet (we figure you come to Grace Su’s China Gorge so we can cook for you). But we thought you might like to know how much Grace and her family embody the American ideal commonly known as the “melting pot.”
First of all, Grace and her husband, Kokdjen (pronounced “Chin”) Su, grew up in the Chinese minority population of the world’s largest Islamic country, Indonesia.
Raised Christian in the family of a Presbyterian church, Grace and her brother, Steve Tan, came to Seattle at the urging of a pastor friend. Both attended school at the University of Washington, Grace graduating with a degree in business administration and her brother with a degree in architecture.
He returned eventually to Indonesia, where he is an architect heavily involved in getting the long-planned Jakarta Tower project off the ground. If completed, it would be the world’s second tallest building.
But we digress. Before he headed back to Indonesia, Steve invited Grace to join him on a trip to a conference in Portland in 1975. He met a girl from Taiwan, who noticed that he was wearing an Indonesian batik shirt. She said she knew a group of Indonesians. One of them was Kok Djen Su.
Two years later, they were married. Kok Djen, while finished his master’s degree in electrical engineering and power at Portland State University, had decided he wanted to stay in the United States. But a quota on immigration led Kok Djen to explore other avenues. He learned that if he bought a business that employed U.S. citizens, he could get a resident visa.
He first explored buying into a soy sauce business in Portland. When that didn’t work out, he started exploring other options.
“He used to like to fish in the Hood River area,” Grace says. “He saw this restaurant for sale — The Sundown. It served American-style rest.”
They bought it, in 1979. Finished in a faux log decor, it required extensive remodeling to get it ready for a Chinese menu.
“At first, he did a lot of the cooking himself,” Grace says.
Now, most of that is handled by chef Weixiong “a Hong” Wu.
Anchored in the Hood, Grace and Kokdjen has achieved part of their dream. Both became naturalized U.S. citizens 24 years ago.
Grace says Kok Djen’s studies help him take care of electrical and mechanical maintenance. As for herself, she says she never thought she’d be running a Chinese restaurant when she was completing her college studies, but she loves it just the same.
“I love the public,” she says. “I love the people.”
Admitting that a lot of hard work has gone into their 33 years of success, she says her faith had more to do with it.
“I credit God’s grace,” she says. “It has been sustaining. It put me in this small beautiful town that we love.”
And her role in the restaurant?
“I usually tell people I’m the chief bottle washer,” she says.
Does she actually wash bottles?
“No,” she says, with a laugh.
It’s a metaphor for “doing it all.” Which she pretty much has, since diving into the melting pot.