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Originally published Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 8:38 PM

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Obituary: Wai Chow Eng built up restaurant along with ID

Wai Chow Eng, owner of Kau Kau Chinese barbecue, was a community fixture in the International District and instrumental to the neighborhood’s revitalization.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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In the mid-1980s, Wai Chow Eng went to a restaurant-equipment auction and came home with a pet fish.

The pacu was homeless and, despite having to build a custom tank for the huge fish, Mr. Eng wanted it. Swish became a fixture at Kau Kau restaurant for the next two decades.

“That was him; he always had a heart for everything,” said Richard Chang, Mr. Eng’s son-in-law.

Mr. Eng died Jan. 4 of natural causes. He was 83.

Mr. Eng emigrated to Seattle from Guangzhou, China, with his father in 1937. He returned to school in China in 1939, then came back to Seattle after World War II.

After graduating from Highline High School, Mr. Eng was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving as an interpreter during the Korean War.

He then studied accounting at Seattle University and the University of Washington, but soon dropped out and began working to support his newly emigrated mother and siblings.

“He never let it get him down,” said Lynn Chang, his daughter and Richard Chang’s wife. “He was a man of honor and responsibility, and knew he had to help his family.”

That sense of duty to family lasted throughout the time he ran the first Kau Kau BBQ restaurant downtown until the day he sold the current Kau Kau to his daughter and son-in-law. He always made sure his relatives had a job at the restaurant if they needed work.

Mr. Eng also made sure his employees were able to put their children through college, and he encouraged them to open up to him.

“He always would help them, regardless of the situation,” said Lan Lau, her answers translated from Chinese by Richard Chang. Like many employees, she has worked at Kau Kau for more than 20 years.

But Mr. Eng could be exacting, too. For years after he sold Kau Kau, he would drop by at 10 every morning to make sure the meat was cut exactly right and every spoon was in place.

Aside from his restaurants, Mr. Eng invested in the Chinatown International District and, in the 1970s, received an award from the mayor for helping to revitalize the neighborhood

He built the Eng Suey Sun Plaza to house his family association, a social organization for members of the Eng clan, hoping younger generations would become more involved in the group.

“He always remembered his roots,” Chang said. “Because he started with nothing, he always helped people who had nothing.”

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Eng is survived by his son, Clifford Eng, of Seattle, as well as grandchildren, nieces and nephews. His wife, Sandra Chinn, preceded him in death.

A visitation will be at Sunset Hills Memorial Park from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday. Funeral services will be at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Interment at Sunset Hills will be followed by a luncheon at Ocean City Restaurant in Seattle.

Sarah Freishtat: 206-464-2373 or sfreishtat@seattletimes.com

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