[Editor's Note: This is the third installment of our weekly feature, "Faces of New Canaan," where we chat with the people all of us associate with the town whether we know them or not. These aren't people who are prominent because of their job titles, fame or influence in any official way, yet we couldn't imagine New Canaan without them. Have a candidate for the series? Email New Canaan Patch editor Lisa Buchman at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Tony Shek didn’t grow up in New Canaan—he grew up in China. And he’s never lived here—since coming to the United States 30 years ago, he's lived in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood.
Yet as most anyone who’s dined out in New Canaan since Ronald Reagan’s second term could tell you, Tony’s is one of the most familiar, and welcoming, faces in this town.
For 28 years, Tony has worked as busboy at Gates Restaurant—greeting diners with a nod and smile, diligently doing his work, laughing with coworkers and regulars, and over the course of those decades undeniably becoming a piece of the town’s fabric.
Born on the southeast coast of mainland China, Tony speaks two languages—which is one more than many of us can say, myself included—and though his English is stilted, his warm personality shines through in a faithful transcription of our conversation, below.
I met up with Tony one afternoon this week in Gates and he recognized me right away—I came to know and respect Tony while working for about one year on the bar there 10 years ago (including the night of Aaron Boone’s home run, a Friday). The truth is, like many of us, I feel I’ve “known” Tony forever, which is how long it feels he's been here.
What follows is a record of our conversation. In some places, Tony relied on a coworker to help translate my questions to him. His answers are all his own.
Patch: Where were you born?
How long have you been here in the United States?
How long have you been working in New Canaan?
And you’ve been bussing here in Gates that entire time?
Whole time. I say, very good. Good for me. (Laughs.)
How has the town changed in the time you’ve been here?
Lots of restaurant now. Too many restaurant.
What family do you have here?
My son, grandson, mother. My son is restaurant owner in California.
Where in California?
Did you come to the United States directly from China?
I go to Hong Kong 10 year. Then come here. (Points down.)
Who did you come here with?
I come first, have green card. Then wife and son.
How old are you?
How old was your son when he came here?
How do you like working here?
I OK. I am lucky. Very lucky. I am lucky owner like Jeb [Swift]. Very true. I am talking true. Jeb number one owner.
What about Billy [Auer]?
I like Billy OK.
What do you do when you are not working here? What are your interests?
I help cleaning everything at house. Repair.
Where is that?
Brooklyn. Forty-third Street.
How do you get to New Canaan from there?
You’ve been taking those Metro-North trains up here for 30 years, the same line?
Oh my god. You know. (Laughs.)
So do you have any hobbies, besides keeping up the house where you live?
Look around community. See how everything look. Everything nearby our house. Very simple.
How old is your grandson?
How often do you see him?
Grandson living in house. Son at business [in California].
So how often do you see your son?
One, two weeks year.
So it’s you and your wife in Brooklyn with your grandson?
And my mother.
She lives with you.
How old is she?
Eighty-four. I take care of my mother very good. Number one true. I know. Very good.
How do people in this town see you?
Nice. People see me coming, give much tip. Extra money for me.
What’s changed about you since you first started coming to New Canaan?
I have hair. Now no hair.