Joseph Wen-Ko Tso of Port Townsend, Washington; the 30+ year former owner of The Lighthouse Cafe, passed away on Earth Day, April 22, 2023, just shy of his 90th birthday. He was held by his children Gail, Richard and son-in-law Brad, and grandchild Zoe, throughout his transition.
Joseph was born in Chiao Tso, Hua-Tien Hsien, Chi-Lin Province, China (formerly Manchuria) on May 15, 1933(34). As a toddler/young child, he survived the brutal eras of Japanese occupation and initial onset of the Chinese Communist Revolution, until 1941. When at 8 years old and against his father’s wishes, he refused to join the communist regime and ran away from home.
As a refugee student, Joseph went blind from malnutrition and was the youngest of a group of friends who kept each other alive throughout their formative years, while making their way from camp to camp and eventually to Taiwan. There, he was encouraged by a mentor to attend Taiwan University where he met his first wife Vina. They both took jobs at the post office and when Joseph decided to attend law school at the Law and Commercial College, Vina supported Joseph throughout his studies. In 1960, Joseph and Vina welcomed a baby daughter named Lydia. After successfully completing his examinations, Joseph served as a judge of the Taiwan District Court until the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Southern California.
Joseph and his second wife, Shirley, purchased The Lighthouse Café in Port Townsend in 1977, following Joseph’s completion of Culinary School at what is now The Westin Hotel. Upon moving to Port Townsend, the small family lived in the upstairs of 955 Water Street in the Law Offices of Cal McCune, the former building owner. Witnessing Joseph and Shirley's young children with only a parking lot to play in, Cal barged in 3 tons of gravel and sand to create what is now Cal's Beach. He told Joseph's children, "One day, you will have a backyard to play in but for now, you have a beach!"
Joseph's American comfort foods, such as his famous hand-cut, twice-cooked hashbrowns, blueberry hotcakes, homemade soups, and fresh seafoods brought many well-known regular customers into the restaurant, including world-renowned mountain climber Jim Whittaker and fisherman Ivar Haglund. Ivar would purchase large pickle jars of Joseph’s clam chowder to sell at his fish and chip shack in Seattle, eventually taking Joseph’s clam chowder recipe and monetizing it without consent. Joseph and Shirley ran tabs for locals, fed veterans holiday meals, and held space for misanthropes, common folk, and dignitaries alike.
Joseph was a poet, an artist, a scholar, a chef, a father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and patriarch. He will be remembered for his sense of humor, his astute instincts, and strong work ethic. As his children, we want to thank Joseph for his list-making, his sense of duty, and above all, his love of learning, which he successfully instilled within each of us.
Joseph was a lover and had a total of three wives: Vina, Shirley, and Hong. He is survived by his five children, Lydia Brady, Robert Tsai, Gail Tsai, Richard Tso, and Leif Ye; his grandchildren, Spencer, Rebecca, Robyn, Zoe, Graeme, Nora; and his great-grandchildren Blake, Brighton, and Isla. A private service will be held for the family. Donations in Joseph’s memory may be made to Asian Counseling and Referral Service here: h[ps://give.acrs.org/give/383917/#!/donaOon/checkout