Where food and community converge late at night

Hong Shing offers up food and a place for Toronto's night owls to congregate

Crab in a tank
Colin Li works in the background of his restaurant Hong Shing just before 4 a.m. Cristela Tello

When it’s late at night and parties end, stomachs start to growl. Nightly cravings arise and people demand something tasty to satisfy their hunger. The options are limited in a place like Toronto, where most places close at an hour that international cities like Buenos Aires or Barcelona would consider criminally early.

Luckily for Toronto’s night owls, there is a place that serves Chinese food until 4 a.m.

Hong Shing has been a staple of late-night dining for more than 20 years. Located on Dundas Street West in the heart of Chinatown, it stands out for its big fluorescent sign and lively atmosphere.

It doesn’t matter how late it is, every hour is full of orders and a busy staff works to meet the demand.

“The energy of the crowd that visits this place during the overnight service is like nothing else,” says Colin Li, the restaurant owner. “You can really feel a sense of community and wanting to socialize and help each other out.”

Three years ago, Li, 27, decided to take the business from his parents Ann and Ron, who opened it 23 years ago.

“My parents didn’t speak a word of English but their product was so good that people kept coming back to the restaurant,” he says. His parents focused on offering top-notch authentic Chinese food with high-quality supplies.

Now, he’s looking to modernize the restaurant without losing its essence.

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“This is the crowd that drives the Toronto scene for nightlife, for entertainment, for anything! And these are the people that make Toronto an up-and-coming city.”

-Colin Li

“Nowadays with social media and everything it is not just about the product. As an entrepreneur you have to focus on the product but also on brand awareness, marketing, and service,” Li says on a recent Friday overnight as the kitchen bustles with orders.

He says Drake used to frequent the restaurant regularly when he was younger and lived in Toronto full-time. Even now, the superstar singer will sometimes pop in while visiting Toronto.

Li is in the restaurant every day. Sometimes he works the day shift and sometimes he’s there during the overnight shift. Hong Shing opens every day at 11 a.m. and stays open until 4 a.m. on the weekends.

It has become a must-visit for partygoers, people who work late and other night creatures — those who make Toronto a little more interesting.

“The nightlife here is really cool. What we serve to the 3 a.m.–4 a.m. crowd is the culture of Toronto,” he says. “This is the crowd that drives the Toronto scene for nightlife, for entertainment, for anything! And these are the people that make Toronto an up-and-coming city.”

In between steaming plates of General Tsao’s chicken and chicken fried rice, the staff is very alert, even though it’s far past midnight.

“I like working overnight because it’s fun. You get to see things you don’t usually see during the day,” says Winter Peyton, a 21-year-old security guard who has been working overnight for a few years now.

“Drunk people are like toddlers. It can be very amusing to watch,” she says.

As the night comes to an end, and the activity in the restaurant starts to wind down, the creatures of the night head back home. When they hit the streets again, Hong Shing will be there, in Chinatown, waiting for them with a warm bowl of wonton soup or a plate of crispy chicken balls, as it has been for over 20 years.


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Posted: Jun 10 2019 12:45 pm
Filed under: Features Toronto at 4 a.m.