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Landmark Hu Ke Lau Closing, Building To Be Torn Down

A landmark western Massachusetts restaurant is closing its doors after 53 years, but it may not be goodbye forever.

The Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee, which boasts the longest-running Polynesian floor show in the Northeast and a comedy stage where the likes of Lenny Clarke, Chris Rock, and Joan Rivers have performed, will close its doors on April 6th, confirmed General Manager Andy Yee.

"I don't want to see this as a wake. I want a celebration of what we've accomplished in the last 53 years," said Yee.  "Everybody it seems will be in a rush to grab their last egg roll or chicken fingers."

The 27,000-square-foot building on Memorial Drive that houses the restaurant and nightclub will be torn down.  Yee said maintaining the 60-year-old building and the parking lot had become prohibitively expensive.

"This restaurant is profitable. It is a viable great entity. It's just that the facility is starting to crumble around us," Yee said.

In a news conference Tuesday inside the restaurant’s famed Polynesian Room, Yee said the property will be redeveloped, but he provided no specifics.

"All I can is 'stay tuned'," said Yee.

He hinted the Hu Ke Lau could return someday, but as a much smaller version than the 1,100 seat establishment it is today.

Yee also did not exactly slam the door on rumors the Hu Ke Lau brand could someday become part of the entertainment at the MGM casino in nearby Springfield.

"I won't say never. We always leave our options open," said Yee, adding " But right now we have no plans effectively right now."

The closing date for the Hu Ke Lau will come 53 years to the day the place was opened by Yee’s late father. In 1965, Jung Tai “Johnny” Yee moved out from Boston with the unlikely plan to open a Polynesian-themed restaurant in a city of predominately Polish and French ancestry which hosts an annual kielbasa festival.

The Yee family operates five other restaurants in the region.

Julia Archambeault has been a waitress at the Hu Ke Lau for nearly half the time it has been in existence.

"It has been a wonderful ride," Archambeault said as she fought back tears. "(The Yees) are family to all of us and we're heart broken they're leaving.  Hopefully we can come back to the 'new and better'."

Long-time Hu Ke Lau patrons like Tim Price of Chicopee said they were shocked when they heard the place was going to close.

"A lot of memories here," said Price as he ate lunch Tuesday. " The food is always good, the service impeccable. It is a staple of the community."

In the years since the Hu Ke Lau opened, the area around it has been developed into a thriving commercial strip of big box retailers, strip malls, restaurant chains, motels and car dealerships.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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