SEMINOLE — The Golden Phoenix endured in the heart of Treasure Island for more than 30 years.
Yet Kwok Kwong Mui, who co-founded the restaurant with two cousins in 1965, always regarded the business as a means, not an end.
He wanted his children to do better.
To make those things possible, Mr. Mui manned a wok as head chef — 12 hours a day, six days a week.
"He would be all hot and sweaty from kitchen work," said Linda Mui Wright, a daughter. "He would say, 'You all don't want to be like this. Make sure you study so you can have a 9-to-5 job.'"
Out of his $30-a-week initial wages, Mr. Mui later told his family, he kept just $5 for his daily needs. The rest he saved for the restaurant he dreamed of buying or sent to family members in Canton, China.
Mr. Mui died Jan. 20, surrounded by his family, six days after suffering a stroke. He was 76.
The eldest son of a high-ranking military officer whose side lost to the Communists in the Chinese civil war, Mr. Mui left mainland China for Hong Kong, then moved to Colombia and finally arrived in Florida in 1959.
He worked at Sarasota's Golden Buddha restaurant owned by an uncle, Robert Moy.
Mr. Mui met his future wife, Jan Yee, who was also born in Canton, when the two were set up on a blind date by his aunt and her mother. They married in 1966.
Mr. Mui and a brother-in-law opened another restaurant in Daytona Beach while Jan Mui managed several curio shops in the Tampa Bay area. She then opened the Mandarin Arts gift shop at Countryside Mall in Clearwater. The couple taught their four children to embrace both their American citizenship and Chinese heritage.
"My dad would call us 'Juke Sen,' (which means) American-born Chinese,' " said Wright.
Mr. Mui deferred most child rearing to his wife, whose parenting style differed from those of strict Chinese mothers hailed in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a current bestseller.
"My mom was like, 'They were born here. They are Americans,' " said James Mui, Mr. Mui's son. "I'm not sure why they did it that way, but I'm sure glad they did. It gave us a little bit of life."
The Mui children all graduated from the University of South Florida.
The Golden Phoenix closed in 1999, after Mr. Mui and his partners could not reach agreement on rent prices with new property owners.
His wife died in 2004, at age 60.
"When we called our parents, he would greet us but he handed the phone over to my mom," said Lilly Mui Dang, a daughter.
"After she passed, there was nobody to hand the phone over to. So we got to know our dad differently, and we bonded with him as adults."
Soon, his children were talking to Mr. Mui all the time — about the stock market, news from China or the latest deals at Publix. He marveled over his nine grandchildren and never missed a birthday party. The extended family continued a tradition of taking cruises together.
Last week, mourners filled the Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home chapel and bowed three times before Mr. Mui's casket.
Some told his children of their father's quiet generosity.
Mr. Mui worked hard to at improve the standard of living in Canton. As chairman of the Mui Chinese Association for the southeastern United States, he raised money that built roads, a school and a nursing home.
"They told us a lot of things we did not even know, things my dad never told us about," daughter Lisa Mui LynFatt. "But that did not surprise us because of the person that he was."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.