Listen: Origin Story – Judy Fu’s Snappy Dragon
Judy Fu’s Snappy Dragon has been a staple of Seattle’s restaurant scene for decades. The nine-time winner of King 5’s Best of Western Washington Best Chinese Restaurant and one of CNN’s 50 best Chinese restaurants in the United States, Snappy Dragon has been family-owned and operated in Maple Leaf since opening its doors in 1993.
Born in Qingdao, China and raised in Taiwan, Judy Fu came to the United States with her son David and daughter Mari in 1971. The family first settled in Washington DC and made the long road trip to move out to Seattle several years later. After settling here, Judy worked in a couple of north end restaurants before opening her own. “Snappy Dragon started because my mother always had a vision of starting her own restaurant,” says her son David, who now runs the business. “She really wanted to start a restaurant so she could have her food on display, so people can enjoy it.”
Opening the restaurant was intimidating for the family. “It was really kind of scary, because of the amount of money we had to borrow from the bank,” David remembers. But Snappy Dragon soon earned a reputation for Judy’s Mandarin/Szechuan-style cooking, getting rave reviews and becoming a popular neighborhood destination.
Lots of things have stayed the same throughout Snappy Dragon’s 26 years in business. While David has taken over the business, his mother Judy still comes in to work daily. The restaurant is still best known for its handmade dumplings and noodles. (Both come highly recommended from David—he makes the dumplings himself, and his mom makes the noodles.) Even the cartoon dragon coloring page for kids has stayed the same.
Running the restaurant is hard work—David typically works from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., even spending his lunch breaks running errands for the business. But he still has fun working with his family and staff, and he’s thankful for the community of customers who continue to support Snappy Dragon year after year. “Meeting customers, that’s my favorite part. And having people say hi to me even though I work in the back,” he says. “It’s always great to see people go, ‘Hey, can we say hi to Dave?’ That always makes me very happy.”
If you’re thinking of opening your own business—particularly a restaurant—David recommends having patience. “In the beginning it’s very slow business, but you just have to stay on your course.” He also stresses the importance of treating your staff and customers with kindness and respect.