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John Lee


1922 - 2018 Obituary Condolences
John Lee Obituary
COL. JOHN C. LEE (ret)
November 19, 1922 - January 3, 2018

Col. John C. Lee, the culinary pioneer who introduced Mongolian barbecue to the U.S. on a mass scale, passed away at his home in Encino, Calif., surrounded by family. An extraordinary and accomplished entrepreneur and innovator, John took daring risks in coming to the U.S. to launch a largely unknown cuisine concept.

Born in Tangshan in the Hebei province of northeast China, John attended Fu Jen Catholic University. After the Communist revolution in 1949, he left for Taiwan, where he enlisted in the army and began a distinguished career that eventually saw him rise to the rank of full colonel and serve as the chief protocol officer and a regimental commander for the army chief of staff.

It was during this time he met his future wife, Nancy, and had two sons, Edward and James. At a time when he was due for a promotion to general, he instead opted to retire early and emigrate with his family to the U.S. so that he could provide a better future and opportunity for his family.

Having learned English in China, he began packing boxes in warehouses to earn enough money to launch his idea of bringing Mongolian barbecue to American palates. His idea took root with restaurants in Northridge, Hollywood and Encino, eventually blossoming into a franchised chain of Colonel Lee's Mongolian BBQ restaurants throughout California.

John was also the first to redesign, patent and manufacture a Mongolian barbecue grill that can still be found in Google searches. In fact, many Mongolian barbecue restaurants still use words, descriptions and phrases originally coined by him in describing their cuisine today.

He eventually turned that success into a Chinese food manufacturing enterprise that produced egg rolls, dumplings and sauces for supermarkets, restaurants, hotels and consumer's homes. His innovations included a modern, mechanized Asian food processing plant and included several patents and trademarks of Asian foods and sauces. As his business prospered, it became one of the first companies to produce authentic Chinese and Asian foods on a mass scale.

After selling his business and retiring, John and his wife launched a charitable foundation providing scholarships to students from their home province to study in the U.S. They were also avid travelers and enjoyed family holidays with their two granddaughters.

He leaves behind a culinary legacy that is enjoyed in restaurants serving Mongolian barbecue across the country. He also leaves behind a legacy of a loving family who are prospering because of the decisions and sacrifices he made decades ago.

Funeral services will be held at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 at 11 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations are asked to be made to any charity that supports student education.
Published in Los Angeles Daily News on Jan. 11, 2018
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