Growing up in the Provence Wen Zhou, Zhe Jiang of Southern China, in a small village just south of Shanghai, Sandy Chen began her culinary journey as a child by helping prepare meals for her large family. Living with four siblings and 16 first cousins all under one roof, Sandy was only ten years old when she learned the art behind cooking traditional Chinese cuisine. However, limited ingredients and portions presented challenges in delivering consistently delicious meals. Sandy met the call for creativity and before long, took the place of her mother in the kitchen along with the task of feeding the whole family.
Sandy’s culinary inspiration stemmed from her father, who moved the family to the United States in 1984. It was here that her father taught her how to work with a mixture of Eastern and Western ingredients. This new region offered more ingredients and Sandy quickly became accustomed with her favorites including crabmeat, wonton, walnuts, shrimp, and glazed orange chicken among others.
While attending Highland Park High School, Sandy worked at Little Szechwan House, and continued to work in the industry at Tang Dynasty (100 East Walton, Chicago) to fund her enrollment at University of Illinois Chicago where she studied accounting. Eventually, she crossed over to the financial side of the business to do accounting for the corporation while remaining thoroughly engrained in the day-to-day operations. While Sandy originally entered the industry to financially support her education, between her childhood passion for food and her business background, she fell in love with the world of restaurants.
In 1994, Sandy took over her first restaurant, House of Dong Yuang, on Halsted Street in Lakeview. She had worked as a server there for a short time during her last year of college. The owner, Mr. Chiang, wanted to retire, and asked Sandy to buy his business. The name and spirit changed to Chens. Sandy built the business for five years, before expanding into a bigger space, five blocks north at 3506 N. Clark. She maintained the same staff, including the chef she personally trained and who is still with the company to this day. Sandy attributed the success of Chens to both luck and ambition and ten years later, Sandy decided to take that luck and ambition, along with her delicious Chinese cuisine and sushi, to the North Shore. She opened Koi just in time for the Chinese New year in 2004.
Thanks to her wonderful team and supportive local diners. We think globally and eat locally. Sandy celebrated Koi’s tenth anniversary in 2014 and her team also had earned the Evanston Leadership Award for her from Evanston mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. To this day, Sandy likes the culinary aspect of the business the most, and is often found in the kitchen in an apron, chopping vegetables, creating new pieces of “art”, and plating the fresh ingredients that Koi is known for. The culinary world is not her job—it is her life and passion. She enjoys the labor of love; a tradition that she has carried since she was a little girl learning the joys of cooking in China.
In Leadership philosophy, Sandy believes the success of our group is built on simple principles, consistently executed in unique ways. Our philosophy can be broken down into Three Distinct Core Values, Two Believes and One Goal.