Madame Wu, Famed Restaurateur and Longtime Palisades Resident, Passes Away at 106

Restaurateur behind Madame Wu’s Garden passes away September 19

By Dolores Quintana

Sylvia Wu, born Sylvia Cheng, was much better known as restauranteur Madame Wu to her customers at her restaurant Madame Wu’s Garden, located in Santa Monica on Wilshire Boulevard. A longtime Pacific Palisades resident, she died at the age of 106 on September 19, as reported by The Associated Press.

Wu opened her famed Hollywood hotspot Madame Wu’s Garden in 1959 which was an industry favorite for four decades. The restaurant’s decor was that of a pagoda with a koi fountain, jade statues and a waterfall and Wu would wear a long silk gown as she took to-go orders on the phone and greeted her famous guests according to AP.  

The reason that Wu became a restaurant owner was that she was appalled by the prevalence of restaurants that served fake Asian cuisine. Indeed, the popularity of restaurants that served chop suey really upset her. Wu said to USA Today, as quoted by AP, “Chop suey everywhere. All you see are chop suey houses.”

At Madam Wu’s Garden, more traditional Asian dishes were served. According to the Los Angeles Times, Mae West’s favorite was the cold melon soup, Paul Newman and Gregory Peck liked the crab puffs and shrimp toast and Princess Grace was a fan of the restaurant’s Peking Duck. 

Wu was born on Oct. 24, 1915, her family lived in Jiujiang, near Shangai and Wu learned to cook by observing the maids who cooked for her family according to AP. She took an ocean liner during World War II to the United States. She said, as quoted by “I don’t know how I had the courage. I had no family in America. The trip took 40 days, and because of the war there was a blackout all the way.”

She met and married chemist King Yan Wu and were married for 67 years. King Yan Wu died in 2011. They are survived by two sons and many grandchildren. Wu worked for charitable causes and focused on working to help the City of Hope cancer center after their daughter Loretta died of cancer. 

Talk show host and media mogul Merv Griffin said of Sylvia Wu, as quoted by AP, “Everybody in this town knows Madame Wu. One of the dearest, sweetest, most elegant women I’ve ever known.”

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