Charlie Wang

Identity, Community, Belonging: The Rise of Chinese American Restaurant Entrepreneurship in the Santa Barbara Region

Mentor: Leigh Elion

The experience of ethnic restaurants comes from the engagements we have as customers through sensory details of space, interactions with front-of-the house staff, and, most importantly, the consumption of food. In urban settings, Chinese restaurants, often located in dense ethnic areas, do not need to make much effort to adapt to American culture. But, in different settings, such as Santa Barbara county that has a relatively low numbers of Asian Americans, restaurant owners need to (re)-develop, negotiate, and maintain their own ethnic identity though place-making. I plan to conduct interviews with Chinese American restaurant owners in order to examine the negotiations they make with American culture: why did they choose to open a restaurant in Santa Barbara? What compromises do they make in translating their food across cultures? What kind of community spaces do they create in their restaurants?