Chinese restaurants in the United States began during the California gold rush, which brought twenty to thirty thousand immigrants across from the Canton region of China.

The first documented Chinese restaurant opened in 1849 as the Canton Restaurant. By 1850, there were five restaurants in San Francisco. Soon after, significant amounts of food were being imported from China to America's west coast.

In 1907, the first recorded Chinese restaurant in London, England was opened. The rise in the number of Chinese restaurants in the UK only began after the Second World War, and has been attributed to returning service personnel.

The restaurants were operated by Hong Kongers who moved to the UK. One restaurant that stands out in the history of Chinese restaurants in the UK is the Kuo Yuan which in 1963 was the first restaurant to serve Peking duck.

In 2003, the first British Chinese restaurant achieved a Michelin star. In the United Kingdom, the business employed a large percentage of Chinese immigrants in the 1980s (90% in 1985).

Opening a restaurant or takeaway gave a relatively low capital cost entry for Chinese families into self-employment. Many takeaways served a pseudo-Chinese cuisine based around western tastes, and the limited cooking skills and experience of the shop owners.

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