The story of Joseph Hou begins well before his birth. His father made the decision to leave his native China for a better life in Calcutta (now Kolkata). India offered a way for Joseph’s father to make a living. He started a tannery and was moderately successful. With the earnings made from the tannery business, he was able to send his son to Catholic school.
This is where the story of Joseph begins. At school he was exposed to life in America, and it sparked something deep inside the child. He envisioned a life different from what he had experienced in India. Although his life was not bad, he had long envisioned a life that would not be bound by the caste system. As Chinese immigrants, he and his family were viewed as less than untouchable, the lowest rung in caste structure. America beckoned where he wouldn’t be judged by the color of his skin, his background, his family history, or his social status.
The difficult part of his vision was convincing his dad. Joseph was slated to take over the tannery as was the family tradition. His mom gave swift approval to his dream of leaving, however, his father was hesitant, even reluctant. Joe offered a compromise to his family: “Give me two years in America to make something of myself. If I fail, I will return.”
New York was his first stop; a cousin lived there who owned a restaurant. Joseph helped out with the restaurant and realized he enjoyed people and wanted a future that involved being around them.
Striking out on his own, he wandered around the northeast until a friend invited him to visit North Carolina. It did not take him long to fall in love with Wilmington. He called his wife, who was still up north, and said he had found their new home. With a leap of faith, they moved and began a new adventure.
They searched the city to find a location to open a restaurant and found the perfect location near the college. Deciding to serve the spicier type of Chinese fare, Szechuan 132 was born.
“I am a person not afraid to take chances,” Joseph said. “I knew if I put in many hours of hard work, there would be no failure.”
Joseph paused, then added, “Failure is okay. If I did fail, I knew I would keep going forward. I had to believe in myself, rely on my strengths and learn from mistakes.”
His hard work has paid off. The restaurant made it through the shutdown, and business is returning.
“I’m glad there are customers coming in again. I enjoy talking with them, learning their stories. I follow the belief of ‘a heart to love and a hand to serve’ —not only to serve our customers but everyone in our community. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Joseph takes time every day to give thanks for the opportunities America has given him, to reflect upon life and what God has blessed him with.
“I’m sixty-four now and should think about retiring, but to be honest, I have no interest in doing so. I love what I do. I get to be a second parent to the college kids who work part-time and watch them grow up and go on to do great things.”
It has been forty years since Joseph asked his parents for the chance to prove himself and find success in the land of opportunity.
As he said at the end of our conversation, “I love America. 我愛美國.”
Please visit Szechuan 132 Restaurant
419 South College Road
Wilmington, NC 28403