The early Chinese cafes were quite different from what Chinese restaurants have become today. They served working class Chinese immigrants who, due to exclusionary laws, lived in bachelor societies. They did not cater to the tourist trade, although they did attract and serve non-Chinese as well. A brief glimpse into one New York Chinese eating hole in 1892 shows that the patronage were varied.

The dining area was a large room dimly lit by oil lamps mounted along the walls. Chinese waiters, with bare feet in wooden sandlers, shuffled betweetn the kitchen and the dining room.  The furniture was cheap and made with unpainted wood.  You could smell opium that floated down from an upstairs den.  On the day of the reporter's visit, poor whites and blacks from the Bowery outnumbered the Chinese customers.  The food that was served was not at all like what you would find in a typical Chinese restaurant of today.  The dishes served matched the desires of customers, who came from varied backgrounds, so many non-Chinese foods were served such as scambled eggs and macaroni, as described in the excerpt below


Over time, Chinese restaurants evolved and began to realize their potential as a business that could attract a larger base of non-Chinese customers, especially in areas where there were few Chinese residents.