Wing Tam was born in China and spent his early years in Hong Kong before the boy’s family moved to San Diego in 1967 and settled near Island & Third in downtown’s Chinatown. As a teen he delivered newspapers on a bike before peddling to school at Roosevelt Junior High, and later San Diego High. His initiation into the food business began as a dishwasher at his brother’s popular China Land restaurant on Midway, and it was here that Wing learned how to create traditional Cantonese recipes. In 1980 his Uncle Kip retired, and Wing jumped at the opportunity to take over the El Cajon restaurant located on Main Street. Wing moved Kip’s to a Second Street site in 1993 and continued to “cook from the heart” until the 2008 economic downturn was compounded by his landlord nearly doubling his rent.
Following decades in the business the restaurateur briefly retired. In 2005 Wing had planted grapes and built a wine cellar, and he now had time to travel and take lessons to expand his passion as a wine connoisseur. Yet he still yearned to return to the kitchen. Wing loved working at his own restaurant and missed mingling with customers who enjoy his tasty menu.
In 2009 he found a perfect spot for a new restaurant at 3925 Fourth Avenue in Hillcrest, then flew to Hong Hong and purchased authentic furnishings to fill it. Diners at Kip’s new cafe may now enjoy a glass of his private Winglini label, and although their wine cellar boasts several limited high-end bottles, customers won’t find any of these on his wine list, which is built around a worldwide selection of affordably priced bottles under $20.
Kip’s Cafe offers traditional Chinese dishes in addition to a full Japanese menu — and features two private rooms for group gatherings. The friendly restaurateur loves people, and his good-neighbor outlook is a great fit for Hillcrest. “We’re here to stay,” boasts Wing. He and wife Jane invite you to stop by to meet the couple and enjoy lunch or dinner from their extensive menu.
Update: Wing and Jane closed their Hillcrest Kip’s location after re-opening in El Cajon in 2012.