When the Convention & Visitors Bureau learned David R. Chan wanted to eat Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken, the bureau decided his wish should come true.

Chan, after all, has eaten at more than 6,150 Chinese restaurants and recently received widespread publicity about his unusual cuisine quest. Bringing him to Springfield might result in more publicity for the city’s signature dish and increase awareness of Springfield as a travel destination, said Susan Wade, public relations manager for the CVB, a nonprofit marketing agency working to boost the local economy through growth in travel and tourism.

The publicity also might help secure a spot for Springfield in a traveling exhibit planned by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Wade provided information this week to the Smithsonian and began exploring ways to bring the exhibit to Springfield. Learn more about the exhibit at www.sites.si.edu/exhibitions/exhibits/sweetandsour/index.htm#press.

“We don’t know if cashew chicken will be included in the exhibit or if it will come to Springfield but we are hopeful,” Wade said. “The story of Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken seems a perfect fit for the exhibit.”

Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken originated when David Leong opened Leong’s Tea House in 1963. Springfield residents were reluctant to try authentic Chinese dishes so Leong created Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken – fried chicken chunks covered with Chinese oyster sauce, cashews and chopped green onion. It became an immediate hit in Springfield and quickly began appearing on menus across the country. Though Leong’s Tea House closed in 1997, Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken is available at many restaurants in Springfield, including Leong’s Asian Diner, a restaurant opened by the Leong family in 2010. Leong, 92, is retired but is at the restaurant daily.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken by Leong’s Tea House and plans are in the works to celebrate the occasion. Cashew Craze, a food competition benefiting local children’s charities, is being organized by the Sertoma Clubs of Springfield. The event is set for April 3 and will include live music, a judged cashew chicken competition and people’s choice competition.

“Maybe Mr. Chan will return to Springfield for the event,” Wade said. “After he spends the weekend here, I have no doubt he will want to return. Springfield is a wonderful destination and he will get only a small sample of all the area has to offer.”

Chan, of Los Angeles, arrives in Springfield tonight and will spend the weekend exploring and adding a few Chinese restaurants to his already lengthy list.

His itinerary includes:

  • After arriving around 7:15 p.m., dinner is provided by Creasion, 501 W. Chestnut Expressway.
  • On Saturday, he will tour the Springfield Conservation Nature Center before a short visit to Branson, a destination Chan requested out of curiosity about how the tourist destination developed. Lunch is provided at 1 p.m. by Leong’s Asian Diner, 1540 W. Republic Road. After lunch, a tour of Fantastic Caverns is planned and dinner is provided by Fire & Ice Restaurant.
  • On Sunday, a tour of the state’s No. 1 tourist attraction – Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World – is on the morning agenda with lunch provided by Chinese Chef, 1731 S. Enterprise Ave. Tours of Pythian Castle and Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield will fill the afternoon, followed by dinner at Mr. Yen’s.

“We appreciate the restaurants providing meals for this visit,” Wade said. “Thanks also go to Ramada Oasis Hotel & Convention Center for providing complimentary lodging.”