In 2024, the historic Ah Louis Store will turn 150 years old. In dreaming up ways to pay respect to this important milestone, a Lunar New Year Palm Street Block Party felt like the perfect way to celebrate. As stewards of this incredible building for the past 7+ years, we’ve been wanting to bring back the celebrations of Palm Street and pay respect to the vibrant Chinatown that once was. We’ve worked alongside fellow Chinatown Historic District businesses, Ah Louis’ family, The City of San Luis Obispo, The History Center of San Luis Obispo County, Cal Poly students including the Experience Industry Management department and various cultural clubs, associations and historians throughout SLO. Together, we bring you a free Lunar New Year celebration in the heart of Chinatown! At this block party you’ll find activity booths, performances, food and a place for gathering as we celebrate Lunar New Year together. Please save the date – Saturday, February 10, 2024 on Palm Street!

-Amber Karson & Emily Butler, Ah Louis Store (2016-present)


Block Party Schedule

  • Palm Street Block Party

    Lunar New Year Block Party officially starts at 11:00 AM and ends with a drone light show finale at 6:30 PM.

    11:00 AM – 6:00 PM Various booths open showcasing clubs, associations and groups with activities for the young and young at heart! Food booths available for purchase.

    2:00 PM Main Stage Celebration of Ah Louis Store’s 150th anniversary

    2:30 PM – 6:00 PM Main Stage Performances (see schedule details by clicking on the dots below)

    6:00 – 6:30 PM DJ Dance Set sponsored by Freestyle Event Services

    6:30 PM – 6:45 PM Drone Light Show

    800 Palm Street

    Saturday
    February 10
    11:00am - 6:45pm

    View on Map
  • Musical Performance by GenKey

    Kick off the parking lot party with sounds from GenKEY (pronounced with a hard ‘g’ as in ‘game’), a student band from Cal Poly’s Japanese Student Association. They’re a non-audition Japanese rock band driven by the goal of sharing their culture through high-energy music!

    Palm Street Main Stage

    Saturday
    February 10
    11:00 AM - 11:30 AM

  • Opening Ceremony & Celebration of 150 Years!

    We will hear from city representatives, the Lunar New Year team will celebrate 150 years with Ah Louis’ family and performances will start on the main stage!

    Palm Street Main Stage

    Saturday
    February 10
    2:00pm - 2:30pm

    View on Map
  • Central Coast Chinese Association Performances

    The Central Coast Chinese Association will share a variety of CCCA programs including a classical Chinese Dance performance, musical delights including a children’s flute solo (Jasmine) and Chinese New Year chorus song, martial arts display, Tai Chi & more!

    Main Stage

    Saturday
    February 10
    2:30 PM - 3:00 PM

  • Culinary Culture Panel: SLO's Rising Asian Food Scene

    Join us for a panel discussion to chat about SLO’s rising Asian food scene and the importance it has on SLO’s own culinary culture. We’ll explore the influences of local chefs & foodies and their viewpoints, what excites them most and more! From carrying on the tradition of SLO Chinatown Historic District’s noodle house to pop-ups on Palm Street to public markets… our chefs will be engaged in an interactive discussion you don’t want to miss!

    Moderator:
    Jaime Lewis, Food & Wine Writer and Podcaster

    Panelists:
    Michelle Barrera, Enjoy SLO and founder, At Her Table
    Shanny Covey, Blue Mango Management (Luna Red, Novo, Robin’s)
    Andrew Gin, Gin Family Cookbook
    Chef Russell Kwong, Mee Heng Low
    Chef Garrett Morris, Sichuan Kitchen

    Palm Street Main Stage

    Saturday
    February 10
    3:00 PM - 3:45 PM

  • Dance Performance by Cal Poly KAJA KREW (K2)

    Cal Poly’s Kaja Krew (also known as K2) is a non-audition K-pop dance cover crew that is open to students at all levels of dance and experience. “Kaja” (가자) translates into “let’s go” or “come on” and it is often used to motivate and encourage others. In essence, Kaja Krew invites people to dance, have fun, and be part of an energetic and passionate community.

    Main Stage

    Saturday
    February 10
    4:00 PM - 4:30 PM

  • Special Screening at Palm Theatre: In the Mood for Love

    Tickets required ($):
    https://ticketing.uswest.veezi.com/purchase/832?siteToken=hajwbqnfgxatsz5nnxx3r9d8vm
    (Show plays both Saturday and Sunday!)

    Bringing independent cinema to San Luis Obispo since 1988, Palm Theatre will be showing Wong Kar Wai’s 2000 masterwork: In the Mood for Love.

    This romantic drama film was written, produced and directed by Wong Kar-wai. A co-production between Hong Kong and France, it portrays a man (Tony Leung) and a woman (Maggie Cheung) whose spouses have an affair together and who slowly develop feelings for each other. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 20 May 2000 to critical acclaim and a nomination for the Palme d’Or; Leung won Best Actor (the first Hong Kong actor to win the award). It is often listed as one of the greatest films of all time and one of the major works of Asian cinema.

    Palm Theatre

    Saturday
    February 10
    4:15 PM

  • Tea Ceremony Demonstration with Inari Tea Lounge

    Tea practitioner Jennifer de Tréglodé with Inari Tea Lounge will share the history of tea and walk us through the traditions behind a tea ceremony on stage in this short demonstration only.

    Want to partake in a tea service? The pop-up Inari Tea Lounge will be open 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM directly behind the Ah Louis Store. Jennifer will transport you to the cozy tea rooms of China where hospitality, community, and connection flow as abundantly as the tea. Come experience beautiful wild living tea straight from the oldest tea regions in China, brewed and served skillfully and artistically in the traditional gong fu style – $5 per person.

    Palm Street Main Stage

    Saturday
    February 10
    4:30 PM - 5:00 PM

  • Cal Poly Lion Dance Team Finale

    The Cal Poly Lion Dance Team is a division of Cal Poly SLO’s Chinese Student Association (CSA), which Young Louis helped found in 1957. Join us for a finale performance sponsored by Yosemite Foods.

    Palm Street

    Saturday
    February 10
    5:00pm - 6:00pm

    View on Map
  • Parking Lot Party Dance Set by Freestyle Event Services

    After the CP Lion Dance Team performance, Freestyle Event Services will provide tunes as we wait for the sun to set! The drone light show is expected to start at 6:30 PM and will last until approximately 6:45 PM.

    Palm Street Main Stage

    Saturday
    February 10
    6:00 PM - 6:30 PM

  • Drone Light Show Finale

    We will conclude our celebration with a drone light show – marking the city’s first ever of its kind. As fireworks were a large part of the Lunar New Year celebrations here on Palm Street in the past, this custom aerial performance is another nod to tradition and history.

    *Special thank you to the City of San Luis Obispo, Mission College Prep and Karson Butler Events for sponsoring this grand finale.

    Sky above the Ah Louis Store

    February 10
    Saturday
    6:30 PM - 6:45 PM


Chinatown Historic District Participants

Ah Louis Store

The Ah Louis Store celebrates 150 years! Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this building is one of SLO’s most iconic landmarks. Karson Butler’s wish is to honor the important place this building has served in California’s history, and the entrepreneurial spirit of Mr. Ah Louis. The “entertaining general store” strives to make the corner of Chorro & Palm streets a bustling cornerstone of our community once again. For the past seven years, Karson Butler has opened its doors as a year round retail gift shop with wine, greeting cards, gifts, baskets, party supplies, and holiday fare!

https://www.shopkarsonbutlerevents.com

Mee Heng Low

One of three original Chinatown buildings that remain, rumor has it wood from the original Ah Louis Store structure was re-used in the Mee Heng Low building that now stands. Russell Kwong has been at the helm of this beloved noodle house, taking over for his father who retired in 2019. We’re excited to showcase Chef Russell Kwong and his culinary delights for Lunar New Year!

While the emergence of the cooking and selling of food in San Luis Obispo’s Chinatown district just north of downtown dates back to 1886, Mee Heng Low, at 815 Palm St., officially opened its doors on Dec. 3, 1927, by a restaurateur named Gin Jack Keen, who took over the space previously known as Hong Kong Restaurant and soon made it his own. The Gin family’s history is forever attached to the restaurant they stewarded until 1998. The family sold the Mee Heng Low business to Sehn and Kim Hyun of Korea, whose last name is also spelled Hyunh. That couple remolded, added noodle-focused dishes to the menu, and ran Mee Heng Low for a couple of decades before retiring and selling it in 2008 to area chefs Paul and Dianne Kwong.

Palm Street Theatre

Bringing independent cinema to San Luis Obispo since 1988, Palm Theatre will be showing Wong Kar Wai’s 2000 masterwork: In the Mood for Love.

This romantic drama film was written, produced and directed by Wong Kar-wai. A co-production between Hong Kong and France, it portrays a man (Tony Leung) and a woman (Maggie Cheung) whose spouses have an affair together and who slowly develop feelings for each other. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 20 May 2000 to critical acclaim and a nomination for the Palme d’Or; Leung won Best Actor (the first Hong Kong actor to win the award). It is often listed as one of the greatest films of all time and one of the major works of Asian cinema.

Purchase tickets here:
7 PM Saturday 2/10 Showing: https://ticketing.uswest.veezi.com/purchase/832?siteToken=hajwbqnfgxatsz5nnxx3r9d8vm

7 PM Sunday 2/11 Showing: https://ticketing.uswest.veezi.com/purchase/833?siteToken=hajwbqnfgxatsz5nnxx3r9d8vm

Hotel SLO

Hotel San Luis Obispo is a modern urban resort that embodies the essence of SLO. As alluring as the hills that surround it and as easygoing as the quintessential California beach towns just up the road, Hotel San Luis Obispo is both a destination and an experience.

Special thanks to Hotel SLO for sponsoring our event – please be sure to stop by and celebrate Lunar New Year and the Year of the Dragon with special cocktails and mocktails served at Piadina and S.Low Bar and High Bar at Hotel-SLO!

Cocktails

24K Gold
RUM, HOUSE ORANGE LIQUEUR, ORGEAT, PASSION FRUIT, LIME

Long Punch
CUCUMBER VODKA, DRAGONFRUIT, THYME, ORANGE TWIST

Mutou Margarita
MEZCAL, BLANCO TEQUILA, COINTREAU, STRAWBERRY, LIME, CHILI SIMPLE, TAJIN

-
MOCKTAILS

Mashu’s Punch
DRAGONFRUIT, LIME, THYME, ORANGE TWIST

The Firecracker
STRAWBERRY, LIME, CHILI SIMPLE, TAJIN


Participating Organizations, Clubs & Associations

Central Coast Chinese Association

The Central Coast Chinese Association mission is to promote Chinese culture celebration and multi-culture exchange, while helping to build a safe community for our families and children.

The CCCA booth will have demonstrations of Chinese food, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese origami, etc. throughout the day.

A note from the CCCA:
Today our CCCA tent is full of the happy atmosphere of a traditional Chinese New Year. First of all, we would like to thank the people of SLO who admire our Chinese ancestor, Mr. Ah Louis . Your kindness and sincerity make us Chinese people living here feel appreciated and welcome. We are exhibiting aspects of our traditional culture to express our gratitude to everyone! It’s gratifying to be able to raise our children in a community that respects our Chinese heritage. You will see a Chinese dragon; try Chinese food; and experience a display of Chinese calligraphy. Plus, you will have a chance to win a big prize!

History Center of San Luis Obispo County

​The History Center of San Luis Obispo County is a California Public Benefit 501©3 non-profit corporation, renamed from the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society, chartered by the State of California on June 12, 1953. Its public sites include a gallery, research room, and bookstore in San Luis Obispo’s historic Carnegie Library building and the Dallidet Adobe and Gardens.

Cal Poly Chinese Students' Association (CSA)

The Chinese Students’ Association (CSA) was founded in 1953 and is proud to be one of the largest cultural clubs on campus at Cal Poly. It originated by Young Louis, the oldest son of Ah Louis, who founded the Poly Chi club. As a social-cultural club, CSA is determined to embrace our diversity and create a “home away from home” where students of all backgrounds and years are welcome to join, irrespective of Chinese descent.

Throughout the year, CSA hosts a variety of social events such as Ultraman, Big/Little Revealing, Banquets & Formals, Intramural teams, and more! CSA also has two non-audition performing groups for those looking to entertain blossoming interests: Take Out Kidz and Lion Dance Team.

Along with a desire to share Chinese culture with Cal Poly and the San Luis Obispo community, CSA continues to make a great effort to bring people of all backgrounds together.

The CSA annual Lunar New Year banquet will take place on February 3, 2023 at Cal Poly. Please visit https://www.calpolycsa.org for more info.

Japanese Student Association of Cal Poly

The Cal Poly Japanese Student Association (JSA) is a student club on campus. It operates as a non-profit social and cultural club, dedicated to sharing and celebrating Japanese culture in addition to fostering a JSA “family” community on campus. Stop by their booth to participate an a variety of Matsuri (festival) games and more!

Kwong Tong Fencers Club

As we honor our historic past, we also celebrate Chinatown’s present! Did you know there is a social fencing club in the neighborhood? This group of local historians, neighbors and friends gathers a few times a month at the The Sauer-Adams Adobe and Garden! Stop by their booth to learn more!

Performance Group: Cal Poly Lion Dance Team

The Cal Poly Lion Dance Team is a division of Cal Poly SLO’s Chinese Student Association (CSA), which Wong Young Louis helped found in 1957. As of 2023, they are also an Instructionally Related Activity (IRA), and function outside CSA. Their current faculty adviser is Dr. Grace I. Yeh, Professor of Ethnic Studies. The team can be seen performing throughout the year during Chinese New Year or other important cultural events in the general San Luis Obispo area and along the Central Coast.

Lion Dance is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture and other Asian countries in which performers mimic a lion’s movements in a lion costume to bring good luck and fortune. The lion dance is usually performed during the Chinese New Year and other traditional cultural and religious festivals.

Performance Group: Cal Poly SLO's KAJA KREW (K2)

Cal Poly’s Kaja Krew (also known as K2) is a non-audition K-pop dance cover crew that is open to students at all levels of dance and experience. “Kaja” (가자) translates into “let’s go” or “come on” and it is often used to motivate and encourage others. In essence, Kaja Krew invites people to dance, have fun, and be part of an energetic and passionate community.

K2 will perform at 4:00 PM on our main stage.

Performance Group: GenKEY

Kick off the parking lot party at 11:00 AM with sounds from GenKEY (pronounced with a hard ‘g’ as in ‘game’), a student band from Cal Poly’s Japanese Student Association. They’re a non-audition Japanese rock band driven by the goal of sharing their culture through high-energy music!


Food Vendors

Mee Heng Low

Menu Coming Soon!

One of three original Chinatown buildings that remain, rumor has it wood from the original Ah Louis Store structure was re-used in the Mee Heng Low building that now stands. Russell Kwong has been at the helm of this beloved noodle house, taking over for his father who retired in 2019. We’re excited to showcase Chef Russell Kwong and his culinary delights for Lunar New Year!

While the emergence of the cooking and selling of food in San Luis Obispo’s Chinatown district just north of downtown dates back to 1886, Mee Heng Low, at 815 Palm St., officially opened its doors on Dec. 3, 1927, by a restaurateur named Gin Jack Keen, who took over the space previously known as Hong Kong Restaurant and soon made it his own. The Gin family’s history is forever attached to the restaurant they stewarded until 1998. The family sold the Mee Heng Low business to Sehn and Kim Hyun of Korea, whose last name is also spelled Hyunh. That couple remolded, added noodle-focused dishes to the menu, and ran Mee Heng Low for a couple of decades before retiring and selling it in 2008 to area chefs Paul and Dianne Kwong.

Sichuan Kitchen SLO

Menu Coming Soon

Chef Garrett Morris (Cal Poly, FSN ’14) will open your eyes and taste buds to the flavors of China’s most famous cuisine. In addition to having a booth at our parking lot Palm Street party, we are thrilled to have him featured this Lunar New Year at Hotel SLO on Palm Street with a special banquet dinner on February 6th at Ox and Anchor, and special items on February 10th at S.Lo Bar, Piadina and High Bar using SLO’s fresh produce flavored with his own arsenal of spices which come straight from China.

There is a famous Chinese saying,
“China is the place for food, but Sichuan is the place for flavor.”

Sichuan Kitchen SLO was started by Garrett Morris and his wife Coco to showcase the wonderful food of Sichuan while using local, seasonal ingredients. Garrett – a Cal Poly SLO graduate in Nutrition – was first introduced to the cuisine in 2013 when he spent 3 months in Chengdu, Sichuan for a study abroad program. After graduating and serving in the Peace Corps in Nepal for 3 years, he met his now wife, Coco, who is from Sichuan. Living the next year in China together allowed Garrett to dive deep into China cuisine and culture. Staying in Coco’s hometown in Sichuan gave him an insight into homestyle Sichuan Cuisine. Upon return to SLO in 2021, Garrett started sharing the food he loved and the techniques he learned through Sichuan Educational Dinner Experiences. After Coco was able to come join him in 2023, the duo has been sharing the spicy goodness of Sichuan cuisine through a weekly take-out service, popups (including Hotel SLO’s High Bar every Tuesday), catering, dinner experiences, and classes. Using seasonal and local ingredients is a cornerstone of their operation – partnering with local farmers to grow organic asain-inspired vegetables as well as taking some local favorites to create a new take on Sichuan dishes (ie avocado in chili sauce). The couple is honored for the opportunity to share authentic Chinese flavors and culture on the Central Coast.

Sequel Tea

Menu Coming Soon

Redefining the Tea. Revolutionizing
the Pearl.

We believe in a high-quality tea with a high-quality brew. No powdered creamers. No high fructose corn syrups. Simply premium, loose-leaf tea sourced from the highest quality tea vendors in the world.

Traditional hot brewing can be a harsh process that rapidly extracts out natural tannins in the leaves if even slightly over-steeped.

We believe cold brew tea is the balance boba tea was made for. Sequel is spearheading the market for a drink that is refreshing, yet refined — health beneficial, yet elevated. At Sequel, we are continuing a story that already exists, just a little different than before.
justin chan cook image.jpeg

Meet Justin Chan
It was 3AM in the summer of 2020 when the idea of cold brew boba tea jolted Justin out of bed. He scoured the internet for every Google Scholar article published on cold brew extraction over the past 20 years. Justin experimented with samples from 3 different tea vendors—tested dozens of different varieties of black, green, and oolong teas, and proceeded to spend the rest of the summer in the kitchen.

Not all tea leaves have the same cold brew diffusion rates. Everything from the leaf variety, oxidation level, roasting process, and/or floral add-ins all affect the diffusion time in maximizing the extraction of aromatic nuances within the tea. After multiple week-long trials and months of progress, Justin settled on the right leaf, the right time, and the right flavor profile to find the balance that we all crave.

With Sequel, Justin wanted to not only highlight his cold brew boba tea, but also wished to provide a place for people to come together and be a part of each other’s stories.

Bings Bao Buns

Menu Coming Soon

At Bing’s Bao Buns, we’re passionate about using locally sourced ingredients to create unique and flavorful Bao Buns. Our menu changes weekly, so you can always expect something new and exciting.

Locally Foreign. TM

Whether you’re a seasoned Bao connoisseur or trying it for the first time, we’re dedicated to providing an unforgettable dining experience.

201 Kitchen

Menu Coming Soon

201 Kitchen offers the tradition of Japanese Sushi, Poke Bowl, Ramen Noodles and Milk Tea. Our other dishes are inspired by the individuality, creativity and cultural heritage of cuisines from around the globe brand with southeast Asian , Japanese, European and American culinary. Openness to foreign ingredients and techniques produces east meet west on the plate and in the mouth them into wonderful eating.

Inari Tea Lounge

The Inari Tea Lounge transports you to the cozy tea rooms of China where hospitality, community, and connection flow as abundantly as the tea. Come experience beautiful wild living tea straight from the oldest tea regions in China, brewed and served skillfully and artistically in the traditional gong fu style.
$5 for tea service

Raising a cup to you!

S.Lo Bar, Piadina & High Bar - Hotel SLO

Menu coming soon!


Featured Guests

William J. Watson, MD (Great-Grandson of Ah Louis)

William J. Watson, MD, the great-grandson of Ah Louis, is the grandson of Mae Watson, the fourth child of Ah Louis’ eight children. A fourth generation San Luis Obispo native, Dr. Watson graduated from San Luis High School in 1969 and from UCLA Medical School in 1976. After completing his residency in otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at the University of Colorado, he practiced in San Luis Obispo before retiring in 2008. In 2004, he purchased the Ah Louis Store from his great Uncle Howard, Ah Louis’ youngest child, after it was condemned as a result of damage suffered in the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake. Soon after becoming only the third owner in the 150 year history of the store, he began earthquake retrofitting and repairing the damage to the building. In addition, much time and effort was spent preserving and restoring both the exterior and interior of the store to its former glory, as well as having the building listed in the National Register of Historic Places. He and his wife Dondi have two children and two grandchildren. He enjoys traveling and fly fishing around the world.

Mayor Erica A. Stewart, San Luis Obispo

The honorable Erica A. Stewart, Mayor of the City of San San Luis Obispo will help us commemorate 150 years of the Ah Louis Store and kick-off our Lunar Year celebrations in SLO’s Chinatown Historic District.

Jeffrey D. Armstrong, President, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

President Jeff Armstrong began his tenure as Cal Poly’s ninth permanent president on February 1, 2011, with a determination to enhance the university’s renowned Learn by Doing teaching approach. He brings to his role a rich blend of experience as an honored teacher, respected researcher, and experienced administrator.

At Cal Poly, he has focused on improving graduation rates. To further bolster student success, he has sought to expand university-industry partnerships to attract more applied research to the campus, thus increasing professional development experiences for faculty which, in turn, enriches classroom instruction.

As a first-generation college graduate, Dr. Armstrong is particularly passionate about nurturing a campus climate that embraces inclusivity and diversity. “To succeed in our increasingly multicultural society,” Dr. Armstrong says, “our students need to experience the world as it really is.”

Before joining Cal Poly, Dr. Armstrong served as dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and professor of Animal Science at Michigan State University (MSU), beginning in 2001. He was head of the Department of Animal Sciences at Purdue University from 1997 to 2001 and served in various positions at North Carolina State University (NCSU) from 1986 through 1997.

Ron Gin & Andrew Gin, representing the Gin Family previous owners of Mee Heng Low

We are pleased to welcome Ron Gin, son of Anna and Johnny Gin, co-owners of Mee Heng Low when owned by the Gin Family and Andrew Gin, grandson of Anna and Johnny Gin, Co-author/ Photographer of the Gin Family Mee Heng Low Cookbook.


Ah Louis Store Turns 150

History of the Ah Louis Store


The historic Ah Louis Store was the commercial center of Chinatown, a two block area on the edge of downtown San Luis Obispo, diagonally across the street from the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. From 1874 to the 1930’s, it served the Chinese and Asian community in San Luis Obispo as its general store, post office, bank, employment office, and gathering place. It was also served as the home of Chinese-American pioneer Ah Louis, or Wong On, and his family of eight children. It was originally built as a wooden structure in 1874. As his business expanded, Ah Louis outgrew it and in 1885, built the larger brick building that exists today on the same site. It is one of the only buildings of the original Chinatown in San Luis Obispo to survive to this day.

Built on the northeast corner of Palm and Chorro Streets, the foundation and walls of the Ah Louis Store are made of brick made from Ah Louis’s own brickworks. Original heavy iron shutters cover the windows and doors and are still functional. One is even scarred by indentations from gunfire from a previous era of the Wild West. After sustaining significant damage from the 2003 San Simeon earthquake, the building was earthquake retrofitted in 2005 while maintaining its original interior except for minimal alterations.

The interior of the building has been lovingly restored. The downstairs store retains the original built-in wooden shelves and cabinetry from the late 19th century made of painted California redwood. They line three of the four walls inside the store and retain most of the drawers, hardware, and pull-out bins located below the shelves where merchandise was stored at one time. The original gas lighting fixture is located in the center of the store. The original safe, cash register, scale, and shop paper roll dispensers have been preserved.

The upstairs is divided into six rooms including three bedrooms, sitting room, kitchen, and bathroom connected by a central hallway. The room layouts are original and the walls and ceilings retain original period wallpaper from the late Victorian Era. The door hardware including hinges and knobs are original throughout the building.


In 1861, 21 year old Wong On left his village near the city of Canton, China, in order to avoid the Taiping Rebellion and to search for gold in America. At first, he prospected in the Washington and Oregon areas and by 1867, arrived in San Luis Obispo attracted by the climate which was favorable for his chronic asthma. He found work as a cook but in 1868, after several years of recognizing him as an enterprising and trustworthy employee, Captain John Harford, the “father” of Port San Luis in Avila Beach, encouraged Ah Louis to become an employment agent to the Chinese laborers, or coolies, as they were called, which were needed in the area. He also gave him the name Ah Louis. Realizing the demand for a labor force in the county, he used his laborers to construct public works projects, work in agriculture in planting and harvesting, serve as household cooks, laundrymen, and handymen, and work in hotels, restaurants, private homes, and hospitals. In 1874, Ah Louis brought in and served as foreman and employment agent for 160 Chinese laborers from San Francisco who arrived by schooner. They helped to build the Pacific Coast Railway, a three-foot narrow gauge railroad. Completed in 1876, the railway ran ten miles from the shipping wharves at Port Harford, to the south end of San Luis Obispo and was the first narrow gauge railroad in Southern California. Ah Louis was paid 10 cents per day for each man and provided them with food and lodging and also served as spokesman for the group. In August of 1881, with the help of Ah Louis’ coolies, the railroad began its extension south to Arroyo Grande and in 1882, extended to Santa Maria and then ultimately reached Los Alamos.

In 1871, Ah Louis established the first brick yard in the area, on the north side of Cerro San Luis Obispo, using time-honored Chinese methods to make them. It inspired local builders to construct many downtown buildings of brick rather than wood. Besides the Ah Louis Store, bricks made by Ah Louis were used to build some of the county’s most historic buildings still standing today including the Andrews block, the Sinsheimer building, a wing of the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Mission, and a railroad roundhouse. They were also used to build a three-story Courthouse in 1873 and the Hall of Records around this time.

By the mid 1870’s, Ah Louis had become a prosperous businessman who, besides becoming a successful employer and labor organizer, was a merchant and in 1874, built a wooden building on Palm and Chorro Street to serve as a general store and bank as well as the living quarters for he and his family. In 1875, ads began to appear in the Tribune Tribune advertising to sell goods and offering “Chinese labor contracted for on short notice”. He would ultimately construct and own several buildings along Palm Street extending to the end of the block that served as a temple, boarding house, gambling place and community center, which comprised a large part of Chinatown San Luis Obispo at that time. These buildings were ultimately torn down in the mid 20th century and presently a municipal parking garage occupies their sites.

In 1877, Ah Louis began two large county road construction projects including one from Cambria to Paso Robles along which some of the Hwy 46 runs today. The other project was building a stage coach road over Cuesta Grade to Santa Margarita. The latter is still in use today and is presently called “Old Stagecoach Road”.

In 1882, with a contract for $1,100, Ah Louis’ Chinese laborers were used to drain a swamp in a land reclamation and drainage project in today’s Laguna Lake area.

Up until 1892, the Southern Pacific Railroad in Northern California was disconnected and separated from their Southern California railways by a large mountain range, the Santa Lucia Mountains, commonly known as Cuesta Grade, approximately five miles north of San Luis Obispo. In order to connect these two railway systems, between 1892 and 1894, the Southern Pacific Railroad took on the difficult project of digging a series of eight tunnels through the mountains which would finally form a continuous railroad up and down the California coast. Ah Louis served as a labor organizer for this project and by April of 1892, had workers under contract to help in the construction. Finally, on May 4, 1894, the first train arrived with much celebration in the San Luis Obispo train station after traversing the new railway across Cuesta Grade. Five of these tunnels are still being used by the Southern Pacific railroad today.

As his business expanded, Ah Louis outgrew the wooden structure of the Ah Louis Store and in 1885, contracted with Alfred Walker to build the larger brick building on the same site that exists today. It was built in an Italianate style that was contemporary for the period. The Tribune called it, “an ornament to the city, and shows the proprietor to be an enterprising, competent businessman.” It was the first Chinese store in the county, selling general merchandise and food, and serving as a bank, post office, gathering point, and employment office for the Chinese community. He imported and sold Chinese and Japanese merchandise and food including curious and exotic items such as herbs, salted duck eggs, sea cucumbers, dried abalone, peanut oil, and various teas, besides selling sacks of grain, coffee, beans, Levis, and whiskey. Ah Louis was its “unofficial mayor.” He often served as a bridge between the Asian and white communities. The Ah Louis Store was the center of celebration on holidays such as the Chinese New Year. An article on the front page of the Telegram Tribune on February 9, 1900, announces, “Ah Louis Celebrates” and “Chinese New Year Demonstration Attracts a Large Crowd to His Store.” Large fireworks displays were common during these times until 1936, by which time most of the Chinese had left San Luis Obispo County.

His men also worked in agriculture throughout San Luis Obispo County. Towards the end of the 1800’s, Ah Louis contracted laborers to work in the flower fields of the Aggeler-Musser Seed Company. He eventually leased his own farms and pioneered the vegetable and flower seed business in the county on six farms near Oceano, Santa Maria, Pismo Beach, Nipomo and the Edna Valley. The seeds were shipped all over the United State. Much of his farming business was derived from World War I government contracts between 1915 and 1919 of growing crops for the US Army including beans and wheat.

In 1870, a census noted 4,567 white and 59 Chinese living in the county. At its peak, in the early 1890s during the construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad over Cuesta Grade, the estimated Chinese population was 2000, and one in ten San Luis Obispo residents was Chinese. At the turn of the century, estimates are that the Chinese population had dropped back to 700 to 800. By 1930, almost all of the Chinese had left San Luis Obispo for Los Angeles, San Francisco, or to return home to China. Eventually, the buildings of Chinatown slowly disappeared and today, the Ah Louis Store is one of only four buildings still surviving from the original Chinatown, the other three being built in the early 20th century. The Ah Louis Store is one of the earliest surviving land deeds in the County records and is currently one of the oldest buildings in California still owned by the family of the original builder.

Ah Louis passed away December 16, 1936 at the age of 96.

From 1936 to 2004, except for the period of WWII, the store was maintained by Howard Louis, Ah Louis’ youngest son who operated it as a gift store selling imported Asian goods. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 100. In 2004, the store was purchased from Howard by his nephew, William J. Watson, MD, the great-grandson of Ah Louis and the grandson of Mae (Watson) Louis, the sixth child of Ah Louis.

Celebrate Lunar New Year Around SLO!


Aside from our marquee event on Palm Street February 10, there are many ways to celebrate Lunar New Year all month long! See our list to do, shop and dine below! Have an event or special to add to our list? Please email hello@karsonbutlerevents.com to be added!

DO / SHOP / EAT & DRINK

SEE

Feb. 2 - 29: Chinatown Glamour Exhibit

Mee Heng Low

Mee Heng Low’s “Chinatown Glamour” exhibit comprising photographs of the Louis, Gin, Chong, Kwong, and Chan du ler families and also of Chinatown’s Japanese and Filipino inhabitants, drawn from the History Center and Cal Poly Special Collections, will open February 2 for Art After Dark and run through Feb. 29.

Curated by:
James Papp, PhD | Historian & Architectural Historian

ATTEND

Feb 3, 2024: 66th Annual Chinese Student Association Chinese New Year's Banquet (CNYB)

Multi-Activity Center on Cal Poly’s Campus
1 Grand Avenue, San Luis Obispo, CA

The Lunar New Year is a holiday celebrated all over the world. It is a time for celebration, forgiveness, and community. On February 3rd, please join Cal Poly’s Chinese Students’ Association in welcoming the new year with open arms and hopes for prosperity and well-being! This is their 66th Annual Chinese New Year’s Banquet, hosted on February 3rd, 2024 at 5:00 pm, including authentic Sichuan Food, dazzling performances by their Lion Dance Team and ToK (a hip hop dance group), and other community performances! We hope to see you there! 新年快樂!

Event sold out

Visit

San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum & Self-Guided Historic Structures and Sites Walk of History

940 Santa Barbara Ave
10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

Visit the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum and take a self-guided Historic Structures and Sites Walking tour. Be sure to visit the Iron Road Pioneers Chinese Railroad Worker Memorial – a bronze statue honoring the work of the Chinese laborers who were instrumental in the construction Western railroads . A map can be printed here:
https://www.slorrm.com/images/history_walk_brochure.pdf

WATCH

Feb. 10 & 11: Special Screening at Palm Theatre: In the Mood for Love

817 Palm Street
San Luis Obispo

Bringing independent cinema to San Luis Obispo since 1988, Palm Theatre will be showing Wong Kar Wai’s 2000 masterwork: In the Mood for Love.

This romantic drama film was written, produced and directed by Wong Kar-wai. A co-production between Hong Kong and France, it portrays a man (Tony Leung) and a woman (Maggie Cheung) whose spouses have an affair together and who slowly develop feelings for each other. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 20 May 2000 to critical acclaim and a nomination for the Palme d’Or; Leung won Best Actor (the first Hong Kong actor to win the award). It is often listed as one of the greatest films of all time and one of the major works of Asian cinema.

Tickets required ($):
2/10: https://ticketing.uswest.veezi.com/purchase/832?siteToken=hajwbqnfgxatsz5nnxx3r9d8vm

2/11: https://ticketing.uswest.veezi.com/purchase/833?siteToken=hajwbqnfgxatsz5nnxx3r9d8vm

MAKE

Kids LNY Craft Activities at SLO Children's Museum

San Luis Obispo Children’s Musuem
1010 Nipomo St., San Luis Obispo CA 93401

Visit the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum this month for special Lunar New Year themed art projects!

Dragon Puppets
Saturday, February 10, 2024
11:30 AM – 1:30 PM
The Lunar New Year marks the beginning of the traditional Chinese calendar, and is based on the orbit of the moon. Each year is represented by one of twelve zodiac signs. This year’s zodiac animal is a dragon! Make a colorful paper dragon puppet you can control using wooden dowels.

Chinese Drum (Bolang Gu)
Thu, Feb 15, 2024 10:00 AM – Mon, Feb 19, 2024 4:00 PM
Gung Hay Fat Choy/Happy New Year! Use a paper plate to make a Bolang Gu to play in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

Spring Cherry Blossoms
Fri, Feb 23, 2024 10:00 AM – Mon, Feb 26, 2024 4:00 PM
Glue small pieces of tissue paper onto branches to create a pretty bouquet of cherry blossoms.

Glowing Red Lantern
Saturday, February 24, 2024
11:30 AM – 1:30 PM
Make a red, lighted, paper Chinese lantern. Red lanterns symbolize reunion and honor, and are hung on the fifteenth day of the first month of the Chinese New Year.

VISIT

Ongoing: Hidden Voices Exhibit- Influential Women in San Luis Obispo History

History Center Museum
696 Monterey Street, San Luis Obispo

The Ah Louis Store is proud to sponsor the History Center of San Luis Obispo County’s latest exhibit- Hidden Voices: Influential Women in San Luis Obispo History. The exhibition is guest co-curated by Cal Poly CLA students Zoë Levit (Anthropology and Geography, ‘23) & and history student Jess O’Leary. Stella Louis is one of the four incredible women featured. In addition to being an amazing business woman, she and her husband co-founded the Chinese Student Association at Cal Poly (the first multicultural club on campus), helped establish and lead the Poly Royal event for FORTY years, and rumor has it her lemon meringue pie may have helped convince Paul Dallidet to trust his family home to SLO’s History Center! We are proud to amplify her story and legacy. The Louis family loved to celebrate and you can even see Young and Stella’s wedding invitation from 1912, cocktail napkins from their anniversary party and more in this collection!

The three other women featured are Alice Martin, who was one of the first black female airplane mechanics during World War II; Maxine Lewis, a social worker who “endeavored to improve the conditions of the poor, unhoused, and underprivileged and philanthropist Nettie Sinsheimer, who, among other things, raised community awareness of the local Red Cross.

History Center Museum
Carnegie Library Building
696 Monterey Street
San Luis Obispo

Open Wednesday through Monday
(Closed Tuesdays)
11:00 am to 5:00 pm


FAQs

Lunar New Year FAQs


Additional details coming soon!

Q: Is there a charge for this event?
A: No – this is a free event thanks to our title sponsors Ah Louis Store and the City of SLO, supporting sponsors including Freestyle Event Services and Yosemite Foods and numerous participating organizations who are donating their time & talents! Food will be available for purchase at Mee Heng Low, Hotel SLO and several pop-up food vendors. We encourage you to take advantage of the many activities & dining specials happening all over SLO to celebrate.

Q: Can I bring my kids?
A: Yes! Our event is meant to be family friendly and our booths will have activities for all ages. Come and learn more about how Lunar New Year is celebrated around the world and the history of Chinatown here in SLO. Please leave non-service pets at home.

Q: What should I wear?
A: We encourage you to celebrate! You may choose to dress colorfully and you will see all colors during the lunar new year represented.

Q: Why are the decorations red?
A: The color red holds a special meaning as it symbolizes good luck, fortune and prosperity.

Q: How do I get there and where should I park?
A: The event is happening in the Ah Louis Store parking lot at 800 Palm Street and a portion of Palm Street will be closed too. All downtown public parking garages will be available including the one right next to us! We encourage rideshare, public transportation and are a short walk from the bus depot at City Hall. Bike Valet will be available at the Mission Plaza entrance on Chorro Street, 1 block from the event.

Q: I would like to be involved or sponsor the event – how should I reach out?
A: Please email hello@karsonbutlerevents with the subject line “LNY 2024” and we will be in touch.

Q: Do you honor the past?
A: We strive to honor the past every day and in every decision we make. We take the responsibility with great respect and humility. While our focus of this celebration is the Chinatown historic district and the 150 years of Ah Louis Store, we acknowledge with gratitude the grounds we call home.

Land Acknowledgment: The Ah Louis Store and Karson Butler Events respectfully acknowledges and honors Indigenous communities, including the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe of San Luis Obispo County and Region. The yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini have a documented presence in this area for over 10,000 years. The tiłhini peoples have stewarded their ancestral and unceded homelands which include all of the cities, communities, federal and state open spaces within the San Luis Obispo County region. These homelands extend East into the Carrizo Plains toward Kern County, South to the Santa Maria River, North to Ragged Point, and West beyond the ocean’s shoreline in an unbroken chain of lineage, kinship, and culture.

Q: Who do I contact for assistance or additional questions?
A: We strive to create welcoming experiences for all. If we can help make your visit more enjoyable or safe in any way, please reach out to hello@karsonbutlerevents.com.