BOYSTOWN — After 38 years of serving Chinese food near the city's most popular bars, the matriarch running Mark's Chop Suey is closing its doors Friday.
The restaurant opened in 1976 at 2901 N. Broadway, right next to a popular, now-shuttered bar called Gaffer's, said Dan Mark, 44, whose mother, Amy runs, the restaurant.
Then in 1989, the Mark family opened the current location at 3343 N. Halsted St., right next to Sidetrack, one of the country's best-known gay bars. One of Mark's gay diners tipped Amy off to the building for sale in the up-and-coming area.
Now, Amy Mark, 64, is ready to slow down.
"Momma getting old," she said. "I've had this business for 38 years. It's too much for an old lady like me."
But it's a bittersweet ending for Amy Mark. Her kids have been trying to get her to retire for a year, she said. Already, her husband has retired and spends half the year back in China, Dan Mark said.
Amy had a harder time letting go of the customers and the memories at the restaurant. Customers have been sending flowers or filing in to say tearful goodbyes, she said.
"I'm leaving my friends," she said.
The Marks immigrated to Chicago from Hong Kong and ended up opening a restaurant because, without an education, it seemed like that's all they could do, she said. She didn't realize they had opened in Chicago's LGBT center, but once there, she embraced the clientele.
"I chose this location because it's a gay community," she said of the Halsted shop with a laugh.
She's seen parents bring in their kids, and her own four sons grew up working in the restaurant.
For years, Mark's opened at 3:30 p.m. because that's when the boys could be picked up from St. Therese Chinese Catholic School or St. Ignatius College Prep and be driven up to Boystown to take orders or pick off the ends of snap peas.
At 7 p.m. or so, a parent would drive the boys back home.
Even in college, when three sons went to the Illinois Institute of Technology and one to the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Mark boys worked in the restaurant.
"It was our family routine," Dan Mark said.
The Mark parents didn't make a huge fortune and mostly had one goal — to provide good schooling for their children, Amy Mark said. The family needed the kids' help to pay for private school, she said, so they would do homework at the restaurant.
Now, all four sons have long graduated and have careers and children of their own. Amy Mark has 11 grandchildren.
"That makes me happy, that they got an education," she said.
Parkview Developers' Ian Reisner has a contract with the Marks to buy the property and still is working to get a proposal for The Out Hotel Chicago approved at the location. Amy Mark said if the hotel project doesn't work, they'll keep the building and rent it out — maybe to another restaurant that she could advise.
Mark's Chop Suey's last day Friday is not the last Halsted Street will see of Amy Mark. The Bridgeport resident said she promised her friends and regulars that she'd be back up to Boystown to visit.
Now that she won't be working, she'll have time to join in on the Sunday parties that take over Halsted, she said.
"I told them, 'I'll see you around'," she said. "I'll be by to party on the weekends. Now, I'm free."