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Intergenerational business thrives in small town Alberta

Intergenerational Day began in Canada in 2010 and recognizes the backgrounds, experiences and contributions of all generations to help build greater understanding. There's no better example of this than at Bing's, in Stony Plain.

The basement of Bing's Restaurant #1 is where it all began for Stony Plain Mayor William Choy.

One of his first Canadian memories as a boy--newly arrived from China more than four decades ago-- was doing his homework in the downstairs of the eatery.

And today, as the top politician in the town 41 km west of Edmonton, William still regularly retreats to the basement at Bing’s to catch up on paperwork.

"I never stopped working down there. I have council and committee meetings to work on. You name it," said Choy, owner of the eatery for more than 25 years.

The remarkable journey for William has indeed been a family affair.

In the early 1980s, his parents, Fon and Jean Choy, worked in the restaurant, first opened in 1970 by his grandfather, Bing Choy.

In 2021, William's mom and dad--along with a half dozen other relatives--continue to work in the eatery. His wife, Dara, assists with advertising and his three children, a teenage girl and two adult sons, have also pitched in.

"I have great family and staff supporting me so I can be a hands-on business owner and juggle duties as mayor of our community." said William.

While COVID-19 restrictions have had a negative effect on Bing's bottom line, William and his team have nevertheless made an increased effort to help the less fortunate in the town of 17,000. An initiative that began last year continues to provide free meals on a weekly basis.

William said the gesture is crucial, adding, "We built this community together and we will get through this together. We need to look after each other, both physically and mentally."

While the restaurant remains a destination in downtown Stony Plain, the unique and once-popular tradition of impromptu babysitting no longer exists.

From the early 1970s until the late 1980s, customers would regularly leave their children at the restaurant so they could run errands or go shopping.

"After school, customers would drop their kids off for a bite to eat. They knew their kids were safe," said William, who holds degrees from Edmonton's King's University.

In the mid-1980s grandfather Bing sold the eatery to his son Fon, who operated it for about a dozen years before turning the operation over to William in 1998.

The popular restaurant was even featured in the 'Chop Suey on the Prairies' exhibit at the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) from 2013 to 2014--chosen because it exemplified the exhibit's detailing of the history of Chinese immigrant families to Canada. The stories behind opening a business while facing discrimination and language barriers are familiar to the Choy family.  

An article written by Lauren Wheeler - a public historian who worked on the exhibit as a project assistant - pointed out the unique nature of the eateries in western Canada. She wrote, "The restaurants often come to hold a special place in the identity and memory of the town. This is partly because they served a purpose beyond offering food."

While babysitting was offered at Bing's, other Chinese restaurants offered other unique features - including serving as the community post office or as dispatcher for the local fire department.

William, 47, said the museum exhibit continues to have a positive impact at Bing's #1.

"We’ve had many new customers come in because they saw us at the RAM exhibit. They loved the history and wanted to support us."

While he works between 70 and 80 hours per week, William says he has no plans on slowing down.

“I not only want to see the restaurant grow, but I also want to make my community better.”

See bings1.com for more on the beloved intergenerational business.