The Wong Family – Delta Business Journal
Owners of Kim’s Food Processing Plant
By Becky Gillette • Photography by Austin Britt
Kim Wong, born in China in 1938, is an American immigrant success story. Not only did he establish Kim’s food processing plant in Clarksdale which now sells pork and chicken skins in fifteen states, but he’s also been an integral part of the Delta town he adopted, including having many friends and fans of martial arts education for decades.
Kim teaches Tae Kwon do, which he learned while serving in the US Army in Korea, combined with Tai Chi and some yoga and Pilates. He has offered these courses for over thirty years, including at Clarksdale Baptist Church Fellowship Hall for many years.
“First, I love my martial arts,” Kim says. “Number two, I want to introduce some form of exercise for my church. I encourage people to come and exercise for their own health. I’m a small person, so I feel like I need self-defense .That’s why I trained in martial arts when I was in Korea.I’m only 135 pounds so I need all the muscle I can get.Martial arts is a good exercise that helps you to gain self-confidence, independence, concentration and physical therapy We all need exercise.
Kim has no set fees for her lessons. People give what they can, usually just a few dollars. What he collects is given to the church. Its students include children of all ages, teachers, lawyers, retirees and others.
Kim immigrated to the United States in 1949. After attending school in Connecticut for a few years, he became the first Chinese student at a white school at Friars Point in the Delta.
“I was well accepted at school,” he says. “I made a lot of friends. I’ve worked at my dad’s grocery store since I was about sixteen. After high school I joined the US Army and did special training at Fort Chaffee here in Arkansas where I trained in accounting. I was stationed in Japan for about eight months. In 1958, I was sent to Korea. This is where I studied Tae Kwon Do and got my black belt.
When he left the army in 1959, he returned to Friars Point and his father, Chew Duck Lee, turned over the grocery store to him. Her father said, “You don’t have to go to college to run a grocery store. I will teach you.”
Jo Bing Company was one of only two grocery stores in town. But, like many small towns in the Delta, Friars Point began to lose population and more and more people tended to head to the big towns for shopping. With business declining, in 1960 Kim moved to Clarksdale, about 13 miles away, and bought a grocery store larger than Friars Point. He added a laundromat and started teaching martial arts.
Then he decided to go into the restaurant business, having learned that while working for his brother-in-law in Connecticut. Between 1960 and 1973, he ran the grocery store and the only Chinese restaurant in town or county.
It came in pork skins, also called pork rinds or pork rillons, as a complement to the restaurant. Pig skins are made from a by-product of pork processing, but they threw it away in their restaurant. He discovered that he had very good taste. So he rounded up a few favorite seasonings, fried a batch, and handed it out to customers for them to taste.
“They all loved it,” Kim says. “They asked me why I hadn’t packed it up and sold it. I called the USDA, and they sent an inspector to my office in Clarksdale and showed me how to do it. This is how I started my pork crackers. I discovered it accidentally from a product that was thrown away.
Business was very, very good. He couldn’t produce enough for his clients even after switching to two twelve-hour shifts a day.
Kim thinks it’s important to enjoy pork or chicken crackers, but in moderation. “If you eat it, it will be a light of your life,” Kim said in a video, Kim’s Way, made by Barefoot Workshops.
Kim says almost all the fat is melted. Everything you eat is a crispy product with very little fat. “You have fewer calories in my crackers than in a cupcake,” he says.
The product caught on quickly and he could not keep up with the demand.
“I was the only one who had these pork crackers at the time,” says Kim. “People all loved it. So I increased the size of my building. I rebuilt and added a kitchen facility and more employees. In 1985 we closed the restaurant to focus on crackling.
People started saying they liked pork crackers, but couldn’t eat them because they had high blood pressure. That’s when he started chicken skins.
“This is another product that I invented,” Kim says. “We started chicken crackers because some people didn’t eat pork or sell pork products in their store. So we made a snack that they would eat and it was chicken crackers from another product that we used to throw out in our restaurant. Chicken skins have also become very popular. We were the only company to have chicken crackers and a country style pork fat back cracker. »
In 1997, he handed the business over to his son, John, who holds a business degree from Delta State University.
“After John took over, he increased the business significantly,” Kim says. “At the moment, I have no idea how many states he has. But, he’s everywhere.
John says the business was going well when he took the helm.
“We hardly ever advertise,” says John. “It was usually word of mouth. Someone was eating it and going, “Man, this is so good.” Pork crackers were number one, but some people didn’t eat pork due to religious beliefs. My dad inventing chicken crackers was probably the big leap for our business. Now it is by far our number one product compared to pork crackers. We lucked out and went to vending machine shows. A few vendors distributed in major cities like Atlanta and Memphis. That’s really how it started. He grew like wildfire. We cover fifteen states right now. Products sell. We don’t need to advertise a lot.
The business had been running well for fifteen years when they were hit by a devastating fire.
“One of our stoves caught fire and because of where it was, the firefighters had to spray everything down, which damaged the packing equipment,” says John. “A friend in the construction industry was there the next day. The whole place had to be torn down and rebuilt. He was insured, but insurance doesn’t cover everything. Thank God we got some money back. When we restarted, there was a great desire for the product because it hadn’t been around for so long.
John says what he enjoys most about his job is the pride of successfully continuing the family business. But, it’s a lot of work. Dealing with government food regulations and people is a challenge. The biggest challenge is finding workers, especially since Covid hit.
“We could produce more products, but we can’t get enough supplies and workers,” says John. “Five years ago, we were doing very well. We even thought about growing our plant. But, in a small town like Clarksdale, it’s hard to get people to stay with you because it’s not an easy job.
Another integral part of the business is John’s wife, Holly.
“Holly takes care of everything from taking orders to shipping orders to accounting,” says John. “I do most of the work. I sweep the floors, and work on programming the wrappers. Holly’s father, mother and sister also work for the company. Without them we would not have survived the Covid hit. They are the backbone of the business. »
Kim still comes around once a week or so to keep an eye on things and used to fill in for John when he coached his two boys to play ball. Their son Landon is now twenty and Jordan is seventeen.
The family works long hours.
“The main things in life are God and family,” says John. “That’s why we work.”
They also take time for hobbies.
“I like hunting and fishing,” says John. “That’s what really matters to me. My dad’s passion is watercolors and martial arts. He’s a very good watercolourist. I can’t even draw a stickman, but I love hunting and sin.
Kim says he’s never bored because he’s retired.
“I always have something to do,” he says. ” I take my time. I walk in my garden and spend time painting with watercolors. That’s enough for anyone.