Local

Kowloon to remain on Route 1, but it won’t be your parents’ Kowloon

“The idea is the restaurant is much bigger than it needs to be right now."

John Blanding, Boston Globe staff

Despite some speculation to the contrary, Kowloon will remain a fixture on Route 1 in Saugus, as it has for decades, its owners say.

But you can expect the legendary local Chinese restaurant to look very different in a few years.

“The idea is the restaurant is much bigger than it needs to be right now,” Michael McKeown — an architect with Manchester, New Hampshire-based Dennis Mires, the firm designing the new Kowloon — told Boston.com in a recent interview. “The Wong family is desiring to add a mixed-use component to the development — commercial, some retail and luxury apartments.”

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When it’s complete, Kowloon, which currently can seat 1,200, will shrink to about 350 seats, according to Bobby Wong, one of its owners.

The Wong family hopes to build two new residential buildings on the site, each with a restaurant space on the first floor.

The plan is the first building will be built and Kowloon will move into its 10,000-square-foot restaurant space temporarily. Then, the current restaurant building will be razed and replaced by a building with a 20,000-square-foot restaurant space and apartments on top. This space will be for the eventual permanent Kowloon.

But what about the unique fixtures inside the restaurant, like the famous faux boat? Wong says the new Kowloon will have some of that flair.

Kowloon:

“Everyone remembers the Kowloon as the tiki Polynesian look inside,” Wong told Boston.com, noting that the new restaurant will pay “some homage to that.” But it will be “freshened up,” still with an Asian theme and perhaps some Polynesian decor thrown in.

“People know Kowloon for that image,” he said, adding that there’s a “good possibility” the new restaurant will have some of that.

All that being said, it’s still very early in the process. The plan hasn’t been formalized yet, according to McKeown. There are still three or four steps to go with getting local approvals, like permitting, before shovels will be in the ground.

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“Part of the phasing of the entire development is to make sure that Kowloon doesn’t shut down at any point,” McKeown said.

Wong said the start of construction could still be a “couple years away.”

The family has decided to downsize the restaurant due to multiple factors, but the main one is they want to prepare for the future, Wong said.

“We’re planting the seeds now for what could happen in the future,” he said. While he said he’s still young enough to run a large restaurant, that won’t be the case forever. Plus, “the next generation isn’t really going to be involved.”

It’s been 72 years since Kowloon greeted it first customers, starting with Wong’s grandparents in 1950; his parents soon took over, and he said he and his siblings have been there “most of our lives.”

As Wong and his siblings age, they don’t want to realize one day that the restaurant is too large and they can no longer maintain it.

“It’s kind of an exit strategy … where you’re not going to really exit,” he said. “We’ll keep one foot in and semi-retire.”

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