Chinese Eatery Celebrates 50th Anniversary|
by Mat Schaffer
The Boston Herald
November 29, 2000
"No, no, let my brother Bobby do the talking," insisted Donald Wong as he led a reporter on a midmorning tour of Kowloon restaurant, pointing out the many changes the building has undergone in the past five decades. "Bobby can tell the story better than I can. Just don't forget to mention our other brothers and sisters: Stanley, Andy, Linda and Lisa."
It's all about family at the Kowloon, the famed Chinese eatery on Route 1 in Saugus, which celebrates its 50th anniversary tomorrow. Three generations have worked to turn Kowloon into the most lucrative Chinese restaurant in America, feeding 15,000 to 20,000 people a week and employing 200. A fourth generation is already getting involved.
The Wongs' grandparents opened the place as the Mandarin House restaurant in 1950, converting a former ice cream parlor into a Chinese restaurant that served both Chinese and American dishes. Then the Wongs' parents (Madeline and Bill Wong) bought them out in 1958 and changed the name to Kowloon.
Over the years, the family has built five additions onto the original restaurant, expanding it from 40 or 50 seats to 1,200.
In a typical week Kowloon serves 1,000 pu-pu platters, 2,500 orders of fried rice and 750 orders of chicken fingers. The restaurant goes through 5,200 pounds of pork, 3,000 pounds of chicken, 1,000 pounds of shrimp, 400 gallons of duck sauce and 10,000 fortune cookies.
"We're always listed in the top 100 independent restaurants in the country," said Bobby Wong. "I believe we are the top-grossing Chinese restaurant in the country; we do approximately $8 million a year."
Credit much of that success to hard work ("There's always a family member on the premises," says Wong) and an astute sense of public taste.
"When we first opened, the menu was split 50-50 between Chinese and American dishes," explained Wong. "It was steaks and sandwiches, chow mein, fried rice and chop suey. My father first started adding Polynesian items and then more Chinese dishes - especially during the Nixon years when the gates were opened to China."
Wong credits his parents with the foresight to expand the menu as American palates grew more adventurous. "When people became interested in Szechuan cooking, we added Szechuan dishes," he said. "Next step was adding a separate Thai menu and a Thai kitchen. Next, we'll probably be adding a Japanese menu and offer sushi. We've gone from 30 or 40 items on the menu to 200 or 300."
The Wongs further increased their customer base by adding comedy and musical entertainment on the weekends. Jerry Seinfeld, Phyllis Diller, The Temptations, Fabian and Mary Wilson all have performed here, and Kowloon remains a popular pit stop for local celebrities and sports figures.
"Some of the Bruins dined here last week," said Wong. Framed photographs on the wall include autographed shots of Ted Williams, Roger Clemens and Reggie Lewis.
"Over the years we've been able to add on new things - not only in the size of the building but in the experience of the customers," said Bobby Wong. "We keep close to the customers. Any day you come in here, there's a family member somewhere in the dining room. I always love hearing people when they walk through the door and are overwhelmed by the number of rooms and the number of different types of food we serve.
"People say that you can't be all things to everybody, but trying to be all things is what we've always tried to do."