Local Restaurant Entrepreneur Leeann Chin Died

Leeann Chinn, the founder of the popular chain restaurants bearing her name, died Wednesday at age of 77 after a long battle with cancer, the Pioneer Press said.

Leeann Chin, born in Guangzhou, China in 1933, grew up working at her father's grocery store stocking shelves, sweeping, and delivering goods by bicycle, sometimes traveling 90 miles in a day, Kare 11 said.

After marrying, Leeann Chin moved to Minnesota in 1957. Despite not speaking English, she worked out of her home in Minneapolis as a seamstress, Kare 11 reported.

She would often cook for her customers as a way to say thank you for their business. Leeann Chin became known for her lemon chicken, the Pioneer Press said.

"That wasn't what we ate at home," her daughter, Laura Chin, joked. "We mostly ate stir-fry," the Pioneer Press reported.

At the request of one of her customers, she began teaching others how to cook and also began cooking for more of her clients.

In 1980, Leeann Chin, 47, started her first restaurant in the Minnetonka Bonaventure shopping mall, the Pioneer Press said.

Initially Leeann Chin was concerned with whether or not her business would succeed, but students and former clients packed the restaurant. Celebrity Sean Connery also visited her restaurant and became an investor early on, the Pioneer Press reported.

In 1981, General Mills purchased a list of her recipes which were published in a Betty Crocker cookbook. General Mills later bought Leeann Chin's business in hopes of expanding the chain beyond the Twin Cities, the Pioneer Press said.

After General Mills unsuccessful attempt to expand her business, Leeann Chin bought her business back. She retired in 2002 and moved to Seattle.

Leeann Chin, Inc. released a statement Friday which said, "Leeann was an endearing woman who touched the lives of her employees and guests with her charm and hospitality and she will be sadly missed," the Pioneer Press said.

Leeann Chin is survived by five children and 11 grandchildren.

A service is planned for the Twin Cities at 1 p.m. March 27 at Normandale Lutheran Church in Edina.

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