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Dragon Pearl owner John Kwok dies unexpectedly

The Dragon Pearl Chinese Restaurant at the corner of Walnut and Second streets has been a popular downtown eating spot for 20 years. It is under new management following the death of owner and manager John Kwok. Photo by Randy Hanson

The unexpected death of John Wai-Sum Kwok over a month ago has resulted in a change of ownership at the Dragon Pearl Chinese Restaurant and left his well-liked wife, Helen, in mourning.

Customers noticed the absence of first John, and then Helen, from the downtown Hudson restaurant beginning in March.

John was the slim, hard-working man who emerged from the kitchen from time to time to check on the dishes in the buffet line.

The gregarious Helen welcomed many of her customers by name.

Regular diners have missed her cheerful greetings in recent weeks. It's like an old friend has left.

Helen talked about her beloved husband in a chance meeting with a reporter last week.

Tears still roll down her cheeks at the mention of his name. She is deeply grieving his death.

They were married 38 years, Helen said. John was a good and gentle man. He was her constant companion and her best friend.

John developed a lung infection in early March and was hospitalized at the University of Minnesota.

Helen said she expected him to be home soon, but his condition grew worse. Doctors said bacteria had invaded his lungs.

He died on March 19, about three weeks after entering the hospital. He was 63 years old.

John was the driving force behind the restaurant, Helen said. He kept the books and managed the kitchen.

She didn't want to run the restaurant without him, and sold it to Xiaolin Zhang Tan and Wan Yi Tong of Woodbury, Minn.

Helen, who lives in North Hudson, said she doesn't know what she is going to do next. She needs time to recover from her loss.

She has grown daughters in Portland, Ore., and San Francisco who call her daily. Close friends in the Twin Cities also check in with her often.

She said Dragon Pearl customers and the Hudson community have been very sympathetic and kind to her.

"We love it here," she said.

Hudson businessman and civic leader John Knutson is one of the Dragon Pearl customers who is going to miss the Kwoks. He first got to know them when he was with RESCO Co. and Dragon Pearl was a customer.

"John was always the quiet and reserved one who handled the business end of operations. Helen handled the client satisfaction end of the business and did a fabulous job. They were truly a couple that complimented each other well, not only in business, but in life," Knutson said.

He said Helen made everyone who came in the restaurant feel like they were her favorite customer.

Knutson quoted a saying that people don't always remember what you say, but they remember how you made them feel. "Helen made everyone feel special," he added.

He said it was interesting to him that the same Asian Food trucks that supply Dragon Pearl also visit other Asian restaurants, yet Dragon Pearl's food always tasted better.

"John and Helen took great care in providing hot, fresh and great-tasting food, all at very reasonable prices," Knutson said.

But, he added, he'll miss the Kwoks more than their food.

The Kwoks came to Hudson from Hong Kong.

John lived there the first 42 years of his life, according to a story in the July 17, 1997, Star-Observer, when he was interviewed about the former British colony's return to China.

He said the Kwoks left Hong Kong in 1992 because of a lack of confidence in the economy and fear that free enterprise would be diminished in the future.

John's brother, Francis Kwok, and his wife, Ella, started the Dragon Pearl restaurant in December 1991. Francis soon invited John and Helen to be partners in the business.

John and Helen have been the hands-on managers until now.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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