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Madeline Wong, matriarch behind Kowloon, dies at 95

Wong helped run the iconic Saugus eatery for more than 50 years.

Madeline Wong stands in Saugus' famous Kowloon Restaurant, which she helped run with her husband William for decades. Kowloon Restaurant

Madeline Wong, the matriarch behind Saugus’ iconic Chinese restaurant Kowloon, died this week at the age of 95. 

Kowloon announced Wong’s passing on Twitter, saying that she “lived life to its fullest, and was an incredible and amazing person. [She was] full of life and full of energy.”

Wong and her late husband, William, bought out the eatery’s original owners in 1958. They changed its name from The Mandarin House to Kowloon, which honors the Hong Kong peninsula that William traversed as he left China for the U.S. in 1939, during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The couple was inspired by their honeymoon to Hawaii, according to The Boston Globe, and set out to transform the low-key spot into a brightly colored attraction known throughout the region. 

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Throughout the next five decades, Wong and her family accomplished their goal, turning Kowloon into a landmark. The original restaurant could only accommodate 40 or 50 guests. Now, 1,200 people can dine at once amid whimsical, tropical decor.

Wong is survived by six children: Linda, Donald, Bob, Stanley, Lisa, and Andy, as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren. 

“It’s just so much love they showed us all, all the time,” Stanley Wong told WCVB. “They were never short of love and she would always make us feel special. Really, each and every one of us felt special.”

The Wong family and their beloved restaurant were already heading into a period of massive change. The family revealed last year that they were planning to divide the property into two lots housing separate six-story structures. They will contain apartments and retail space, including a new version of Kowloon. The massive building where Madeline Wong and her family served food for decades will be demolished. 

A new version of Kowloon will still exist on the ground floor of one of these buildings. It will shrink to a capacity of only about 350 seats, Bob Wong told Boston.com in March. 

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The family will still look to retain the spirit of Kowloon’s well-known decor, while simultaneously working to “freshen up” the dining areas. 

“We’re planting the seeds now for what could happen in the future,” Bob Wong said. “The next generation isn’t really going to be involved.”

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