Longtime Atlanta restaurateur Betty Hsu has died following a short battle with cancer. Hsu owned a handful of Chinese restaurants around Atlanta named Hunan Village with her husband George. Following her retirement, she went on to assist her three children, Howard, Anita, and Ronald, with their own Atlanta restaurants — Sweet Auburn Barbecue in Poncey-Highland and the recently-opened Lazy Betty in Candler Park.
Hsu, known for her unrelenting energy, determination, and bubbly personality only matched by her hot pink hair, was born in Malaysia. She immigrated to the United States in the 1970s and became a U.S. citizen, eventually sponsoring her parents and her seven siblings.
She opened and operated five successful Chinese restaurants in metro Atlanta throughout the 1980s and 1990s, while raising her children and sending all three to the esteemed private school, Woodward Academy.
Ronald Hsu, who worked for a decade as a chef in New York City at prestigious restaurants such as Le Bernardin, told Eater Atlanta in an interview last year that the food he cooks at Lazy Betty represents the many “cross-cultural meals” he recalls eating as a child mixed with his own culinary pedigree.
“My mother represents a lot of the food I’m cooking. She grew up in Malaysia but was from China and came to the United States in the 1970s,” the chef said. “She acclimated to American culture and started cooking dishes like chicken fried steak for us as kids but then we’d also have Asian dishes at dinner. It was a real hodgepodge.”
The Wagyu steak and eggs on the menu at Lazy Betty is inspired by his mother and post-restaurant shift family dinners at Waffle House. Hsu’s order was always steak and eggs.
Hsu also served as the inspiration behind Lazy Betty and as its namesake. The “lazy” in the name refers to a little family joke poking fun at her boundless energy and need to stay active and busy, even after she retired.
The Hsu siblings say their mother was far from lazy. After retiring from her own restaurants, the family matriarch often imparted business advice onto her children and helped out at their restaurants, greeting guests and occasionally making “suggestions” to kitchen staff and servers. Sweet Auburn Barbecue, opened in 2014 by Howard and Anita Hsu, frequently hosted “Bao Night” at the restaurant, featuring a variety of their mother’s bao buns on the menu.
Ronald Hsu posted a poignant tribute to his mother on Lazy Betty’s Facebook page. It reads, in part:
“My mother was one of the strongest, hardest working, vivacious, and selfless persons I know. So many of her qualities and her life teachings have been the source of inspiration for Lazy Betty. Most amazing story I have of her is her role as a pioneer. She is singlehandedly responsible for bringing her 8 brothers and sisters, not to mention cousins, parents, friends, and employees from Asia and changing the course of all their lives. She did this not speaking any English and only a few dollars in her pocket when she first came to the USA. She worked hard enough to eventually own multiple businesses and send 3 kids to an expensive private school.”
“She could bring people across from the world and break barriers to make them feel like family and loved, despite who or where they came from.”
The Facebook post is peppered with fond remembrances from former Hunan Village restaurant patrons and the Hsu siblings’ childhood friends.
Hsu leaves behind an enduring Atlanta restaurant legacy. She is survived by her husband George Hsu, her three children, and her three grandchildren, Coen, Juniper, and Calliope.
Corrections, May 30, 8:15 a.m.: A previous version of this story listed Hsu as born in China. She was born in Malaysia, came to the U.S. in the 1970s not the 1960s, and had seven siblings not eight.