'He loved everything about Footscray': Jim Wong restaurant for sale after 60 years

Maryanne, the wife of Jimmy Wong who has worked in the restaurant for 53 years, with her granddaughter Stephanie.
Maryanne, the wife of Jimmy Wong who has worked in the restaurant for 53 years, with her granddaughter Stephanie. Photo: Justin McManus

When Jimmy Wong opened his Chinese restaurant in Footscray in 1960, there was no grey townhouse complex towering over the other side of the road.

There were no Ethiopian or Vietnamese restaurants nearby. Even the neighbouring pawn shops, with their stained, metal-barred windows, weren't there..

Jimmy worked seven days, seven nights a week in his restaurant. For 56 years, he rose at 5am to buy produce from Queen Victoria market or start preparing the day's dim sims.

Jimmy with Australian cricket legend Merv Hughes.
Jimmy with Australian cricket legend Merv Hughes. Photo: Supplied

In early May 2016, like every other day, he kissed his wife, Maryanne, on the cheek, told her he loved her, then walked downstairs to the restaurant.

One hour later, a restaurant worker arrived and found Jimmy at the bottom of the stairs, a pool of blood near his head. He had tripped on the staircase, and died two days later from his head injuries.

Maryanne, who worked in the restaurant with Jimmy since they married 53 years ago, said she wanted to keep his name going after his death.

With former Western Bulldogs coach Rodney Eade. Jimmy often did charity work with the Bulldogs.
With former Western Bulldogs coach Rodney Eade. Jimmy often did charity work with the Bulldogs. Photo: Supplied

"The day I buried him at the cemetery, I made a promise. I said 'I promise I will stay here for two-and-a-half to three years," she says.

"Then I said I would sell it and go for a holiday, see the outside world a bit. Now it's been three-and-a-half years, so I decided to let it go."

In the same week that Pellegrini's co-owner Nino Pangrazio announced his retirement after 45 years at the Bourke Street cafe, Maryanne Wong has listed Jim Wong restaurant, a Footscray staple, for sale.

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She hopes to sell it by the end of the year then travel Australia.

Jimmy, a foster child who came to Australia by ship as a lone 12-year-old to live with his uncle, famously gave former Melbourne lord mayor John So one of his first jobs, as a waiter.

Sun-stained newspaper clippings and photos with celebrities adorn the left-hand wall as you enter the restaurant. 

Jimmy in 1991. The caption reads: "Jim Wong has been tantalising the tastebuds of his Chinese Restaurant diners in ...
Jimmy in 1991. The caption reads: "Jim Wong has been tantalising the tastebuds of his Chinese Restaurant diners in Footscray for more than 30 years." Photo: Supplied

There's Jimmy, posing with the likes of former Western Bulldogs coach Rodney Eade, legendary captain Brad Johnson and former Australian cricketer Merv Hughes.

Jimmy even has a moustache to rival Hughes in some photos - that, unlike the restaurant, didn't last long, Maryanne insists.

"He loved everything about Footscray, full stop," says Maryanne, who will soon turn 80.

"Nothing else matters. Not even me. He just loved this business, the people, and Footscray."

Jimmy often did charity work with the Western Bulldogs. He had donated to help build a new, 42-bed Royal Melbourne Hospital facility that opened in 2016. After he fell on the stairs, Jimmy became the first patient to die there.

Maryanne was introduced to Jimmy through their families. Originally sceptical, she knew Jimmy was the one once she saw him in his restaurant.

"He was so, so, so busy. When I saw him work, he was like a spinning wheel. He was that quick and fast. From then on, I said 'he'll do!'" 

Maryanne says she and Jimmy never went on holiday, because Jimmy didn't want to spend time away from Footscray and his passion of horse racing.

The restaurant has been coming out even, or sometimes making a loss, in the years since his death, and she has been working seven days a week. 

"The past 53 years I've been here. I haven't been anywhere else," she says.

"I am very sad leaving the place. But I am excited, thinking that I can go for a holiday, to see what I've been missing."