Written by: Kelly Johnson | Photographed by Will Hair
Raised on an island off the coast of South East China, May Chen knows the tastes and smells of Chinese cuisine all too well. Living in the Cape Fear Region for the past twenty years, she feels at ease by the water and has found her niche in Wilmington, growing both her family and business. Having previously worked in a restaurant, May’s heart sparked with an idea to bring her love of cooking to Wilmington, offering something she felt Wilmitonians didn’t have yet. In 2010, her mission of opening an authentic Chinese restaurant transformed from a vision to a truth.
Looking through the menu of Double Happiness, you’ll find a selection of meals made to “attain the harmony of taste, texture, color, and aroma.” For May, a favorite meal is, Shrimp with Ginger and Scallion – anything with fresh seafood is a taste of home to her. With an authentic Chinese meal, the goal is to maintain a balance between Fan and T’sai foods. Fan foods being rice, noodles, grains, and dumplings. T’sai foods are vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood. With these principles and fresh ingredients, May and her staff deliver quality cuisine, and tastefully so.
With a name like Double Happiness, there had to be a story or reason behind it. When asked about it May chuckled and said, “that was my husband’s idea, I have to give that credit to him,” and goes on to tell me the origin of the Double Happiness symbol.
“The legend of the Double Happiness dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). A young, brilliantly gifted scholar named Wang An Shi secured the hand of a wealthy maiden at the same time as [passing] the imperial exam with highest distinctions. In celebration of this dual accomplishment, he created the Double Happiness symbol.”
May’s own endearing definition is that “two things joined together become even happier– a perfect fit,” which seems to fully explain her work as both a mother and business owner. In April 2010, May’s first restaurant location opened, making her a new business owner and mother. Her daughter Abigail, was just twenty-nine days old. Laughing at the irony May says, “everything was ‘double’ tough, but the passion of bringing an authentic Chinese restaurant to Wilmington kept me going.” Today, May has two restaurant locations, and naturally, the second opened just as her son, Isaac, turned fifteen months old. Feeling as if she is a mother of four, with Abigail, Isaac, and her two restaurants, one can assume the madness of motherhood is twofold for May Chen.
In Chinese culture, “good things come in pairs,” and as a mother of two, May has plenty to tackle in her daily routine. Abigail, age eight (going on twenty) loves her violin, reading, and writing. Isaac, on the other hand, is only eighteen months old and will do anything that involves playing outside or getting into something he shouldn’t. Though a mother’s work “comes with a package of sleepless nights” it produces a reward that no other occupation will. Just as any mother, May’s hope for her children is for them to work hard to “fulfill the gift that God has given them” in order to find their happiness. With the time put forth towards her restaurants, May hopes for her business to succeed, but even more so, for her children to have a role model in their mother. Between violin lessons, running around the yard, and picking up innumerable amounts of legos May is a businesswoman, and it is important to provide excellent service to her customers, which comes naturally for May. She is thankful for Wilmington in providing her a home in which she can give the community an authentic Chinese meal, full of fresh quality ingredients.
While speaking with May, it is evident, the amount of passion and care she has for her work, the memories of her childhood home, and how she wishes to share that with her community here. As she hopes for her children to grow and work hard at what they someday pursue, she too is growing and working hard to see her passions unfold. While May loves both her children and her business, being a mother is always her priority, but finding time to grow her business takes a close second. She has great pride in the quality of her business and the hospitality her customers are greeted with as they step through her restaurant’s doors. For this mother, it is a busy life between restaurant and family, but it is a life of Double Happiness.