Biographical / Historical
Percy Wallace Loy (1920-2006) was born in Vancouver, Washington, to Kong (1867-1951) and Rose Loy (nee Fong), Chinese immigrants who were in the dairy business. Loy attended the Providence Academy in Portland, graduating in 1937. Loy enlisted in the Army (1943-1949) and became a navigator, bombardier, and pilot, serving during World War II. He retired as a lieutenant colonel, but was unable to find work with an airline after the war. He and his brother-in-law, Robert Wong, started the Kubla Khan Food Company, selling frozen Chinese entrees at a time when frozen foods had not yet caught on and the infrastructure to store, transport and distribute them didn't yet exist. The company popularized both frozen foods and Chinese food in the Northwest region of the United States. He was very active in the frozen foods industry in the Northwest, campaigning for the industry and working at convincing grocers of their profitability. He sold the manufacturing part of the company in the mid-2000s and died in 2006.
Though most food preservation practices (curing, smoking and canning) have their origins in Europe, the practice of freezing foods for consumer use was, for the most part, started and developed in America. Even today, frozen convenience foods are considered an American oddity and are not widely embraced in other countries.
In the 1920s Clarence Birdseye experimented with freezing food in small quantities, enabling them to reach a lower temperature faster. In the decades that followed, Birdseye tested and developed better packaging and ways of packing food more tightly inside the packaging. However, consumers remained skeptical about the safety and quality of this novelty, as were grocers about its profitability, in addition to concerns about the effects of the industrialization of food. It took about twenty more years to turn this situation around and to resolve problems with distribution and transport. Birdseye had to take huge risks to get there, beginning with enlisting the aid of a small number of stores, to which he supplied free freezers containing a variety of frozen foods sold on consignment, and hiring demonstrators to convince consumers that frozen foods were the future. Very slowly, frozen foods began to catch on. It wasn't until the 1950s, when frozen TV dinners were introduced, that frozen foods became popular with consumers.
Against this background, Percy Loy and Robert Wong started Kubla Khan in 1950 in the basement of a Chinese restaurant in Portland. Wong died a few years after the company was started. He supported his family by selling insurance for a short while, and then opened a small Japanese restaurant, eventually starting the Kubla Khan Company as a sideline, when he saw a hole in the market for frozen foods, the convenience of which he thought would appeal to consumers. He was active in getting freezers in stores that had not had them before.
While they were not the first to offer frozen Chinese food—Breyer's Ice Cream had its "Golden Pagoda" brand including frozen chow mein and chop suey—Kubla Khan had little other competition at the time, and most stores stored their frozen products in their ice cream cases. The introduction and popularity of TV dinners helped Kubla Khan's business thrive, as groceries added freezer cases to accommodate the TV dinners, and they now had space to add more frozen products. Kubla Khan kept up with the changing technology, but they held onto their cooking techniques, continuing to cook much of their food in woks or with steam, eschewing the automated, large batch vat cooking that other makers used. Loy said that this ensured uniform heating and an authentic taste. Mr. Loy built some of the equipment himself, with frozen food being so new that the machinery was not readily available in the Northwestern states. Kubla Khan exported its products to Asia, enabling the company to boast that it was so authentic it was served in the Orient. They also bottled their own sauces using their own recipes.
The Kubla Khan Company was not the largest Chinese food manufacturer, but it was a pioneer. They helped popularize something previously considered foreign and exotic—Chinese food. They helped popularize frozen food, something taken for granted now with probably (an unscientific estimate) 10% of the space in most grocery stores being devoted to frozen food. They did this not only with their products but with Mr. Loy's activism in promoting frozen foods. La Choy, by comparison, did not start making frozen foods until the 1960s.
Loy was a tireless activist in promoting frozen foods, campaigning for the industry and working at convincing grocers of their profitability. His goals were building consumer trust and making Chinese food accessible. He was also active in his community, trying to help other minorities start businesses. A strong believer in giving back to his community, he helped several colleges (Lewis and Clark, Willamette University and others) start up foreign exchange programs. He helped several former employees start their own businesses. He led the first trade delegation to China after Nixon's visit.
The Kubla Khan Company is still in business, but Mr. Loy sold the manufacturing part of the company in the mid-2000s. Loy married Irene F. Lee in 1949. The couple had six children children, Martin (d. 1958), David (d. 1965), Michael, Deborah, Marilyn, and Daria. Loy's daughter, Marilyn Loy now runs the company, which is limited to the import/export aspect.