Since taking over his family’s restaurant, Chan’s Fine Oriental Dining, in the 1980s, John Chan has been enriching Rhode Island’s cultural and culinary scene with his famous “Eggrolls and Jazz.”
Chan was born in Hong Kong, spending his first ten years there with his parents, Ben and Ethel, and his siblings Bill and Linda. After initially moving to Astoria, New York, Chan and his family traveled to Woonsocket in 1965 after his father purchased the New Shanghai restaurant from a family friend. The space had been operated as a Chinese restaurant in the city since 1905 and is believed to be the oldest operating Chinese food restaurant in the state.
In 1970, Chan attended Providence College, where he was introduced to jazz for the first time by his college roommate, who was a DJ for the college radio station. What began as a love for jazz records morphed into a passion for live performances at Providence’s Joe’s Upstairs that shaped the trajectory of Chan’s legacy.
After graduating in 1974, Chan began working full-time at the restaurant, which now bore his family’s name. He began running the restaurant in 1977 and introduced the first live music performance, paving the way for later performances by greats such as Dizzy Gillespe, Miles Davis, Duke Robillard, Leon Redbone, James Montgomery, and countless others for 45 years. In 1986, Chan expanded the business and the musical entertainment by purchasing the neighboring Fleet Bank building and transforming it into a soundproof performance space.
Chan’s Fine Oriental Dining has been listed by USA Today as one of the “10 Great Places to Savor Chinese Food,” as well as one of Northern Rhode Island’s best Chinese food restaurants by Rhode Island Monthly.
In addition to the praise his restaurant has received, Chan himself has received awards from organizations in Rhode Island and beyond, including inductions into the William Blackstone Society of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council in 1998 and the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame in 2018. He has also been awarded the “Keeping the Blues Alive Award” from the Blues Foundation in 2011 and the Pell Award from Trinity Repertory Company in 2015, and received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from his alma mater Providence College in 2021.
John Chan still lives in Woonsocket with his wife and son. He continues to engage with art of all kinds, having been a member of the Providence Art Club for over 20 years and appearing in several Rhode Island-based film productions.