It took a fateful forgotten flush for Dan Hom to learn an important lesson about his father.
As a boy, Dan Hom hated rice. “I was more of a noodle guy,” he said.
But every night at dinner, there it was, in his bowl: a clump of steaming rice that was enough to make him gag. In a Chinese immigrant family, that bordered on sacrilege.
So it was with great care that Hom wrapped his rice up each night when his parents were away from the table and snuck away to send it down the toilet. He got away with it until one night, his younger brother, Raymond, asked how he always managed to finish his rice so quickly.
Hom let his little brother in on the secret, and he wanted in. “I told him to make sure to flush. I said, ‘Make sure you flush.’ And of course he forgot to flush.”
Their father, Jackson Hom, was livid. “We got a good spanking,” Dan Hom said. “He was so mad, because he told us there were so many people out there who didn’t even have a bowl of rice to eat.”
Jackson Hom left China for San Diego as a 19-year-old to feed himself and ended up making his living feeding other people. He was part owner of China Land, one of San Diego’s earliest and most popular Chinese restaurants. He had a love affair with food. So seeing that clump of rice breaking apart at the bottom of the toilet bowl struck a nerve, and his son has never forgotten his reaction.
Even in his final days, his son said, food was on Jackson Hom’s mind.
Hom died of cancer Feb. 27 at the age of 73. He channeled the profits of his restaurants’ success into San Diego’s Chinese community, funding community events and establishing a local Cantonese Opera company. He lived, his family said, by the belief that he owed much to the community that had helped him achieve success.
He always insisted on paying for dinner, and though he believed that hard work would be his family’s ticket to success, he never discounted the importance of a little good luck.
Seck Quoon Hom was born Dec. 7, 1936, in Guangdong, China. He arrived in San Diego in 1955, when he was 19, adopting the name Jackson. His father had left the family behind years earlier to support them from California, where instead of opening a laundry shop like so many other Chinese immigrants, he and three partners opened the China Land restaurant in Point Loma.
But two months after Hom joined his family in San Diego, his father died. Hom assumed his father’s role in his family and at the restaurant, learning first to cook, because he spoke no English.
China Land was one of only a handful of Chinese restaurants in the city, and its location at Rosecrans Avenue and Midway Drive, near the Naval Training Center and ensconced between strip clubs, made it a late night hotspot. At dinnertime and after midnight, the line snaked around the building with servicemen, police officers and post-red-light clientele. It had carhops.
And all day and night, Hom scurried through the restaurant serving them as fast, and his brother said, politely, as he could.
“He used to ask me to come and help him in the restaurant,” said Jerry Hom, Jackson’s younger brother. “He told me I could leave at about 10, but I would always end up staying until 4 a.m.,” when the restaurant closed.
In the early 1960s, he decided it was time to marry. He returned to Guangdong to find a wife. There, family introduced him to a local schoolteacher, Hou Siu. They courted for several months, the teacher uncertain whether Hom was the man for her.
Until one day, when they had made arrangements to meet at a bus stop at 1 in the afternoon. The teacher worked only until noon, and decided she had time to go home for a nap before the date. When she awoke, it was 5 p.m. She rushed to the bus stop.
Hom was still there.
“That was when my mom realized that my dad was the man she wanted to marry,” Dan Hom said.
They returned to San Diego. His wife adopted the name Nancy and they had two sons, Dan and Raymond, and a daughter, Mimi. Hom was a strict father, his son said, regimented in his routines. He took a single lump of sugar with his coffee, and one spoonful of cream. He watched the Chargers on Sundays. Each season, he was certain the team would win the Super Bowl.
Where he let loose, his son said, was with his cooking. He took joy in making other people happy through his food, especially his signature prime ribs and homemade wontons, which he prepared in quantities befitting a family much larger than his own.
Hom sold his interests in the China Land restaurant and opened his own, the Land of China, in Chula Vista in 1974. Six years later he opened a second restaurant in Seaport Village.
As he achieved success, he became more actively involved in San Diego’s Chinese community. He served as president of the Ying On Labor and Merchant Association, an organization of Chinese business owners. In the late 1980s, he and his wife, Nancy, helped establish the Lin Wah Music Center, which stages productions of Cantonese operas, a popular entertainment form in their home province.
They funded trips for entire troops of actors from Guangdong to perform for immigrants living in City Heights.
And his heart softened for families that reminded him of his own when he first arrived in San Diego. He owned rental properties, but often let families just starting stay in them free, his son said.
“You’ve gotta give back,” he told his family. “You have to treat your friends and customers like family.”
He finally closed his restaurants in 1995 and retired, traveling occasionally and enjoying hobbies like fishing and football games with his children, whose successes he relished. Dan Hom, his oldest son, has been active in Chula Vista government, ran for its City Council, and now is president of a local marketing firm.
Jackson Hom’s affinity for horse racing and gambling earned him the nickname “Action Jackson” among friends. For three years during his retirement, he worked as a part-time floor manager at the Sycuan Casino.
In his final days, his thoughts turned again to food, said his younger son, Ray Hom.
He realized that after 45 years of marriage, he may have left his wife ill-prepared to eat without him. “All her life, she never had to cook,” Ray Hom said. “Lying in hospice, he asked her, ‘When I go, who’s going to cook for you?”