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Friday, September 17, 2021
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On a seemingly slow summer afternoon at Chop Chop, the Glatt Kosher Chinese restaurant in Washington Heights, co-owner and manager Matthew Chan is running around like the busiest man alive. Without Chop Chop’s usual customer base—Yeshiva University students—Chan keeps himself occupied by arranging door-to-door deliveries in neighborhoods across the region.

Even during the Nine Days, when kosher restaurant-goers would normally abstain from meat, Chop Chop’s fans everywhere were eager to try Chan’s creative meatless menu, complete with mock shrimp dishes, fish curries and Cantonese specialties. Needless to say, those who know Chan know that his life’s mission is to make others happy with his culinary abilities.

“Baruch Hashem,” Chan always says with a smile.

Chan arrived in the United States 22 years ago with just $400 in his pocket and the determination to make something of his new life. As he explains, he was fortunate enough to find a job in a kosher restaurant just shortly after his arrival, launching his kosher culinary career into something he could have never imagined. Chan worked his way up to manager at several kosher establishments. Then he was connected through Great Kosher Restaurants publisher Elan Kornblum with the Rutta family of Scranton, Pennsylvania. They were looking to open up a Chinese restaurant near YU—which would soon become Chop Chop.

“I didn’t know anyone,” Chan recalled. “And I didn’t know what my purpose would be. When I landed at Chop Chop … it all fell into place for me.”

Chop Chop opened its doors the week before Pesach in 2010, thanks in part to the support of father-and-son duo Richard and Jesse Rutta, along with Chan’s sheer grit in getting the restaurant up and running. “I’m so grateful to Richard and Jesse for supporting me since the inception of Chop Chop,” Chan said, adding that the Ruttas have become a family to him.

“When we first opened, I used my background to set up the menu and figure out what our customer base would like,” Chan explained. “We set out with a lot of choices on the menu, but we quickly found out that the YU students have a pretty set list of items they prefer.” He listed several of the usual fan favorites, including General Tso’s chicken, lo mein and fried rice.

Chop Chop’s menu has since evolved, which Chan said is thanks to all of the customer feedback they receive. Chan works with his two chefs, Ming and Brian, to adjust existing menu items and create new offerings. Over time, Chop Chop has expanded to offer dishes from Thailand, Singapore, India, Malaysia and more. “I try to create something new every week,” Chan said with a smile. “It’s a challenge I enjoy.”

Yeshiva University was one of the very first campuses in the region to shut its doors at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak, sending students home as early as February 2020.

“We were shocked—and we didn’t know what to do,” said Chan. “My employees were afraid to work, we were short-staffed, and we had to come up with something.” That’s when he reached out to longtime friend Kornblum, who runs the Great Kosher Restaurant Foodies Facebook group. Kornblum helped Chan publicize Chop Chop’s delivery service, still in full swing today.

Stamford, Connecticut, was the first non-Manhattan community to bite, literally and figuratively. Chan quickly realized that doing these out-of-town deliveries would take a lot more work than he thought. “I remember apologizing to a lot of people for delivering late. Some were angry, but luckily, most were understanding and we received continued support.”

Once Chan got over the initial hump with Stamford, he began venturing to other neighborhoods. “I had people reaching out to me and saying, ‘Please come!’ even though I didn’t know who they were. To date, Chop Chop has delivered to 76 communities.”

Chan became so inundated with deliveries that he had to enlist his family to help. His 15-year-old daughter now creates flyers for Chop Chop, and his wife and son help with texting and delivery coordination. “I am so grateful to my wife, Indri Yani, and my children, for supporting me through everything,” he said. Slowly but surely, the restaurant learned exactly what it needs to do to accomplish such a feat—Chan practically has it down to a science.

Chan attributes his success, both prior to COVID and since the beginning of the pandemic, to his faith in God. “I learned that when Hashem wants something for me, I have to remember it’s not about me—every success that Chop Chop has is a blessing from Hashem,” he explained. “And that’s what I always tell people: It’s about what Hashem wants.”

Chan has a close connection to Chabad, and has visited the Ohel during particularly difficult times, including when his mother passed away in 2017. “I prayed there, and I felt like Hashem was sending me a message that my mission should be to give back to others.” He also visited the Ohel when he was unsure of what to do at the outset of COVID, which he described to be an experience of “surrendering my life to Hashem … if Hashem wants Chop Chop to survive, He will let it happen that way.” And Chan’s belief has carried him through with great success.

Chan recalled that on several different occasions, he’s been asked about his use of Jewish phrases like “Baruch Hashem” and “Hashem should bless you,” despite the fact that he isn’t Jewish. “I’ve been told that it seems like I’m just trying to market myself to the Jewish community,” he said. “But God forbid—I say thank you to Hashem because I truly believe in Him and that He has a plan for me.”

But Chan made it clear that he doesn’t think God’s plan for Chop Chop is to make him rich. “When I finally meet Hashem, He is not going to ask me, ‘How much money did you make?’ or ‘How many houses did you own’?” Chan explained. “Hashem will just want to know about how many people I’ve helped.”

And that has ultimately become Chan’s mission in life—to make others smile with his food.

“The most important thing to me is that people like our food—because it brings us joy to bring you joy,” he said. “My goal is to make people happy. I’m not always perfect, but b’ezrat Hashem, I’m getting there.”

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