Many food lovers have gotten to know the smallest of details when it comes to where their food comes from. Menus often tell us where the meat we eat was raised and where the vegetables and grains were grown and keen eaters know all about local condiments, chocolate makers, and coffee roasters. But those noodles that you love to slurp up in your favourite Asian restaurant? Unless you’re going to one of the relatively rare places that specialize in hand-cut noodles, it’s probably something that customers haven’t given much thought.
If you are a fan of restaurant dishes that involve fresh chow mein noodles, egg noodles, wonton wrappers, Shanghai noodles, and especially rice noodles or rice rolls, there’s a very good chance that you’ve eaten products from Hung’s Noodles without knowing it. The Calgary-based business has been serving both restaurant and retail customers since 1984, and is one of Calgary’s original purveyors of fresh, locally made noodles.
The idea for Hung’s was sparked when founder Ricky Chung’s uncle, who owned a Chinese restaurant in Calgary, complained that there wasn’t a source of local noodles available. When Chung’s father immigrated to Canada, he brought a small noodle making machine with him with the intent of helping out his brother and filling a gap in the market, but it ended up sitting dormant in the basement of the restaurant. Meanwhile, Chung himself took on a rare apprenticeship with a prestigious noodle maker in Hong Kong to learn the craft.
Once he arrived in Calgary he took a job at a grocery store to better learn English and the needs of the local market. Four years later he was ready to make his move and Hung’s Noodles was born. Business was a little rocky at first, but Chung, his father, and his wife worked hard to get their little business off the ground.
“It took a while to figure out how to make my noodles here,” Chung says. “The first time I went to a distributor and they asked what kind of flour I wanted, I didn’t know what to say. My English wasn’t that good yet and there were so many different kinds. So I just tried to talk to people and learn what they wanted in their noodles and I started making samples.”
Since those beginnings, as a small three-person operation with Chung doing demonstrations in grocery stores to illustrate the perks of his product, Hung’s has grown — by 1990 the company moved into a new industrial building and expanded further about a decade ago. It’s a busy facility, where a staff of about 20 work in two separate areas making rice and wheat products on specialized equipment. Chung figures that he has about 90 percent of the rice noodle market in Calgary’s Asian restaurants, due to the complicated process that involves making the noodles completely from scratch with actual rice. All of the noodles are made fresh to order and are shipped out to customers daily.
In all, Hung’s Noodles makes about 15 different products and the company has grown, not only because of the growing population and increasing popularity of Asian restaurants in Calgary, but also because of the company’s retail business and brand recognition. As more and more Calgarians who are not of Asian descent learn to cook with noodles and dumpling wrappers (for both traditional and non-traditional recipes — the Chungs have heard of people making things like perogies with their dumpling wrappers), the demand for fresh, high-quality products has gone up.
While Chung acknowledges that some of his competitors can beat him on price and that there will always be customers who simply look for the cheapest product, Hung’s distinguishes itself when it comes to quality.
“We haven’t scaled to that large mass-producer level, but what works with our plant is that we’re at that mid-level where we can produce a certain level of volume in smaller batches, so we’re really able to control the quality,” says Chung’s daughter Joanne, who is part of the third generation of Chungs working in the family business.
“Ricky trained with the masters to really learn how to make those noodles. We just want to sell really good quality noodles, which means that we don’t compromise on price. That’s what will serve us in the long run and set us apart.”
Hung’s is also in the midst of expanding its market with a line of high-quality ramen noodles to cater to Alberta’s rapidly expanding fleet of Japanese restaurants. In addition to restaurant clients like Nan’s Noodle House and the Taste of Asia restaurant group (which includes favourites like Calgary Court, Sun’s BBQ, and T.Pot), Hung’s Noodles can also be found in Federated Co-op stores across Western Canada and T&T Supermarkets in Calgary and Edmonton, as well as a range of Asian specialty markets.