The roots of Kwan’s accolades as the “Best Asian” restaurant in Salem — five years in a row –go back to the dedicated work ethic of Master Chef and Owner Kam Sang Kwan. At age 11, he got his first restaurant experience in a cafe. By 12 or 13, he learned English so he could communicate with foreign customers. He quickly became the number one waiter and at age 16 he was booking banquets. At age 17 he was transferred to Hong Kong and learned to speak Japanese, which helped him rise further in the restaurant business.
When a job offer to work in San Francisco fell through, he was offered another opportunity to move to the U.S. and work as a chef in an affluent household. “The requirement was a little bit of cooking, but also knowing how to make drinks,” Kwan recalls. Both he and his wife Bo carefully thought about the opportunity and he decided to accept the two year position working for Oregon businessman and author Gerry Frank. Kwan performed his job so well that he was asked to stay for another two years.
Kwan then went on and started his first restaurant in 1976, known as “Kwan’s Kitchen” in Salem’s City Hall. The current restaurant building was opened in 1982, has the architecture of a pagoda, and is a landmark just south of downtown Salem.
Besides Kwan’s excellent menu and healthy choices, his strong reputation in Salem is also due to his diligent attention to customer care and his community service. For instance, he gets the attention of children in a classroom visit by de-boning a chicken blindfolded with a meat cleaver, then delivering an amazing message of ethics and work values to the students.
Special entrees include dishes such as Stuffed Crab Claw with Minced Crab meat, Sizzling Rice Seafood soup, items pictured below including Strawberry Chicken, Mandarin Pressed Duck, Pecan Shrimp, Steamed Asparagus Spears and over thirty different gourmet choices.
Kwan’s is well known for accommodating customer’s special needs such as food allergies and other health restrictions. They also offer a wide variety of vegetarian dishes including mock meats. You can choose from the diverse menu of Macrobiotic, wheat and gluten free, Vegan, Vegetarian, or any special dietary needs. Healthy foods are their specialty: 26 vegetables, 1o vegetable oils, 6 organic rices, 5 organic meats (Emu, Ostrich, Lamb, Buffalo, and Venison).
Kwan’s also offers an extensive menu of entree choices, from traditional Chinese cuisine to alternative options including Emu, Ostrich, mock meats, vegetarian, whole grain rice, special diets, and creative dishes. They provide several varieties of whole grain rice are available including 8 grain, black, brown, red , or a mix of wild and brown rice. Included in the full vegetarian menu, they offer Mock Meat, a meat substitute, consisting of wheat gluten or a combination of gluten, beans, and roots. “Mock” meats do not contain any meat, dairy, or seafood by-products. These meats look similar to but do not taste like meat, while still including protein in your diet.
As an additional option for those of you who are on a special restrictive diet, they can prepare their dishes according to special needs such as: No Salt, Sugar, Soy Sauce, Oyster Sauce, Sherry, Sesame Oil, Starch, Wheat or Gluten derivatives. They also have a variety of oils you can request to use for an additional, small charge: Grape Seed, Olive, Corn, Pam, Peanut, Safflower, or Sunflower oils. And the delicious dishes are made with fresh ingredients with no MSG added and pure filtered water in all preparations – “from rice to ice” in your drinks.
And the banquet rooms can accommodate from 10 to 175 people. Special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, wedding rehearsals and receptions can be reserved in advance. And Kwan’s caters both large and small – events. For example, they have catered everything from at the Governor’s mansion to an informal office luncheon. They will assist you in customizing your menu and creating a presentation for a successful event.
Master Chef, Kam Sang Kwan, continues to receive rave reviews in magazines and newspapers both locally and regionally.
Their gift shop is unique, even for a gourmet Chinese restaurant. Arrive early so that you can enjoy viewing the porcelain vases, carved buddhas, and other art objects. In the front of the store they have a hand-painted and designed porcelain Kwan Yin and a Hand-Carved Wooden Kwan Yin. This unique piece shows a Kwan Yin conquering a dragon and representing the triumph of compassion over violence. Both the Ying and Yang elements are carefully balanced along with beautiful hand-carved details.
A magnificent carved Buddha greets you at the door, and is a famous landmark in Salem, Oregon. The larger- than- life-size, 14 ft Buddha in the Gift Shop is known as “Po Tai” — the Buddha of prosperity and abundance. According to Chinese traditions, he gave up all his possessions but then suddenly became so wealthy that he shared his prosperity with everyone.
A necklace carved with the Chinese character for prosperity rests over his abundant stomach area. He stands on a base stand that is also hand carved from Northwest redwood and displays gold coins in the grass beneath his feet.