Local couple changes 'fortune' for foster child

Marie Havenga • Oct 13, 2017 at 10:00 AM

The Fortune Cookie Chinese restaurant celebrates a decade in business today. But no eggs would have dropped into soup, or rice fried, had it not been for the life-long dream of its China-born owner, Yun Li.

After fleeing her country and being placed in a refugee camp in California, a Grand Haven couple — Joe and Carla Nadeau — took Li in as a foster child when she was a teenager.

“We had her through International Foster Care and Bethany Christian Services when she was in high school,” Carla said of her daughter, who is now in her 30s. “It was her dream to start her own business when she came here. She was very determined.”

While attending night classes to get her GED, Li worked full-time at many Chinese restaurants.

“But she really wanted to have her own place,” Carla said. “She started a restaurant in Sparta with another Chinese couple. It couldn't provide for two families, so she sold her part to them and moved back to Grand Haven.”

A few years later, Li fulfilled her dream by opening the Fortune Cookie, 1705-A S. Beacon Blvd.

Married with two children, Li became a United States citizen about five years ago.

“I'm very, very proud of her,” Carla said. “Not only has she done well, she's hired the rest of our kids to work for her and given them jobs. My son was so inspired — he goes to school in Portland, Oregon — that he wrote a paper about his sister, Yun.”

But Fortune Cookie isn't Li's only good fortune. A couple of years ago, she opened the Lucky Tea Cafe. More recently, she's turned it into the Lucky Tea and Sushi Cafe.

“Several years ago, she bought a brand-new house across the street from our place,” Carla said. “We are very involved with her two kids — Jocelyn (13) and Aiden (7). Jocelyn wants to get into culinary arts.”

At her restaurants, customers know Li as “Rose.”

“She said 'everyone has a hard time pronouncing Chinese names, so we'll all give ourselves American names,'” Carla said. “She knows all her customers by their first name and she always remembers their order.”

When Li was in labor with Aiden, a nurse recognized her and said, “You're the Fortune Cookie lady.” Li then rattled off the woman's favorite order — chicken fried rice.

Carla said her favorite is the house special — thin rice noodles with vegetables with meat and shrimp.

She said that, besides good food, her daughter's personality is what makes the business go.

“She's very personable and has conversations with her customers about their families,” Carla said. “She's also very generous with the community. She taught herself English at the refugee shelter in California.”

The shelter gave each child $1 per day. Li saved hers, and used it to purchase an electronic translator to help her perfect her English skills.

“She got straight A's when she came here,” Carla said.

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