CHICOPEE — A crowd gathered at daybreak Wednesday to see one last show at the Hu Ke Lau.
Crews from Associated Building Wreckers began demolition of the 53-year-old restaurant and showplace known for its scorpion bowls, Polynesian dance show and for hosting top-name comedians like Joan Rivers and Rosie O’Donnell.
"The house that my parents built," said Andy Yee, managing partner of the family owned Bean Restaurant Group. "I'm witnessing it all."
The late Jung Tai “Johnny” Yee opened the Hu Ke Lau on April 6, 1965. He expanded the building a decade later.
The Yee family closed the restaurant in April.
In June, the Yees auctioned off most of the equipment and decor from the Hu Ke Lau, a sale that drew tiki bar aficionados to Chicopee one last time.
It did good business up until the end of its run. But at 30,000 square feet, the building at 705 Memorial Drive was too big and too antiquated to operate profitably in a restaurant market that favors smaller establishments, Yee said.
He marveled that both he and Peter Picknelly of Peter Pan Bus Lines have seen buildings built by their fathers demolished within weeks.
Picknelly, Yee’s partner at The Fort Student Prince Cafe and The Fort Dining Room in Springfield and at the McLadden’s and Union Kitchen restaurants, moved Peter Pan’s offices and bus operations out of the old bus terminal on Main Street and into Union Station earlier this year. He sold the bus station property to the housing agency Way Finders, which demolished the building to clear the way for a new headquarters.
Yee said he and his family are in conversations about the future of the Hu Ke Lau property, but there are no plans to announce yet.
“Ink has not been put to paper. We are just moving forward to clean the property up,” Yee said. “We own the property and we are going to carefully plan something out.”
As Bean Restaurant Group, the Yees own several South Hadley bars and restaurants — Johnny’s Bar & Grille, Johnny’s Tap Room, Iya Sushi & Noodle Kitchen, the Halfwayhouse and The Boathouse at Brunelle’s Marina — as well as Johnny’s Tavern in Amherst and Johnny’s Roadside Diner in Hadley.
That’s in addition to the The Fort and the McLadden’s restaurants, which they own with Picknelly and partners Michael K. Vann and Kevin B. Vann.