Kam Sang Kwan "Chef Kwan"
May 18, 1936 - June 17, 2018
Salem - Kam Sang Kwan “Chef Kwan” passed away peacefully at Salem Hospital on Sunday, June 17 at the age of 82 from complications of pneumonia. He was born May 18, 1936 to father Kwan Shu Lin and mother Au Lan Hing in Canton, China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. His father died when he was just eight years old. As a result, he started working from a very young age to provide for his family. He began doing any and all kinds of work to earn money. These experiences led him to have great personal drive and to become a person who was not afraid to dream big. Kwan began working in Macau at age 10 for a photography studio. At age 11, he started working for Ruby Restaurant, first as a page boy then worked his way up to maître d’. At one point, he managed two Ruby Restaurant locations in Hong Kong.
As Kwan worked relentlessly from an early age to support his family, he had little time for a formal education. After several attempts to learn English, a missionary encouraged Kwan to complete his studies. Kwan was highly intelligent and ambitious. In addition to learning English and his native Cantonese, he spoke Japanese, Portuguese, and several other Chinese dialects including Mandarin. His work ethic and drive led him on a journey to become a self-taught Master Chef.
He lived in the moment, but always thought about the larger picture and the future. Kwan married Bo on August 6, 1965 in Hong Kong. In 1969, he emigrated to the United States with the assistance of Gerry Frank, aide to Senator Mark Hatfield. Kwan worked for Frank for five years to assist at his residence and became Frank’s personal chef.
Kwan’s first restaurant, Kwan’s Kitchen, opened on October 1, 1976 at the Salem Civic Center. This small venue seated around 80 people and served breakfast, lunch and dinner. In 1982, a second restaurant, Kwan’s Cuisine, opened on Commercial Street. After two years of simultaneously running both restaurants, Kwan’s Kitchen was sold, and Kwan’s Cuisine became his sole focus. The new restaurant gave him the space to serve more people, the flexibility to cater a variety of events and a canvas to reflect his innovative vision. It included an expansive remodel that displayed a 16-foot wooden Pu-Tai Buddha. In Chinese folklore, the Pu-Tai Buddha collected donations from the rich and gave them to the needy, reflecting the heart and soul Kwan put into his work. He possessed great empathy, love, and concern for others, and is remembered for the personal connections he made with all who knew him. He was a chef who understood the challenges faced by people with special dietary needs and accommodated them long before dietary restrictions were widely recognized. His dedication to healthy eating also extended to installing one of the first advanced water purification systems in a restaurant, which has now become essential for high-quality, health-conscious food and drink. Kwan was a man of many talents including photography, woodworking, sculpting, painting, and most importantly, the ability to serve the community through his food.
Kwan is survived by his wife Bo, children Ngai Yin (and her fiancé James), Kun Yin, Ket Yin, Chi Ben, grandson Damon, older brother Kam Yuen (and his wife Fung Yee), two nieces
and two nephews. He loved his family deeply and wanted the best for them. Kwan mentored many employees, some of whom went on to open their own businesses. He treated his employees like family and led by example.
The family is planning a community event to honor and celebrate Kwan’s life. Details will be posted on kwanscuisine.com and the Kwan’s Cuisine Facebook page when they become available.
The Kwan family has appreciated the outpouring of support and condolences. They are asking in lieu of flowers or gifts to please provide donations in Kwan’s name to the American Heart Association: https://donatenow.heart.org/ or The Salvation Army: https://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/ways-to-give/