If you have never eaten at the Black Bamboo restaurant on Farmington Avenue or never met the dynamic young owner, Sonny Chen, you are missing out. Sonny is a 2007 graduate of Conard who distinguished himself on the soccer field and is now distinguishing himself as a very successful restaurateur. Sonny credits his four years of varsity soccer with teaching him many of the life lessons that still guide him in his work. Like his soccer experience, in which he earned All-Conference recognition, his restaurant has received awards from its beginning, for four years in a row.
Sonny’s story is a classic. His family moved here from China in the 1990’s when he was only 8 years old. He spoke no English. He and his family worked hard. His father owned a restaurant in the West End of Hartford where Sonny worked along with the rest of the family. Now Sonny employs more than a dozen people including some family members.
One thing you will notice if you visit more than once. Sonny possesses an incredible memory for people, faces, and names. Even if you haven’t been there in a while, he will cheerfully greet you by your first name as you walk in as if he had been expecting you for hours. He will also very likely be the person at the counter…answering phones, taking orders from walk ins, calling out to the kitchen staff and delivery people. He firmly believes that much of this ability to work with people and think on his feet comes from his experiences in sports.
When asked if he has considered opening another restaurant, he replies, “No. I can’t be in two places at once. I would rather have one place and run it well, than have two mediocre ones.” During our interview, a customer asked him how many hours a week he works. Sonny just laughed and said, “I used to keep track, but I don’t anymore. I’m always here. I love it here. This is my Life.”
When asked what he is most proud of, he had to stop and think for a while. He then said, “I guess it’s the fact that I came here from China not knowing one word of English. And now, I own a house, I own this restaurant, and I’m really a part of things.” Just then, another customer walked in the front door and Sonny said, “Like this guy! I’ve known this guy my whole life!” With that, he turned and made another customer feel welcome in his amazing little restaurant that he calls “his world”.