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Route 1 Icon Kowloon Will Lose More Than Two-Thirds of Its Seating

The path to Kowloon’s future involves a smaller footprint

Exterior view of a restaurant with a large A-frame entrance and red signage
Kowloon will remain on Route 1.
Terrence B. Doyle/Eater

Kowloon, Route 1’s physically and culturally “gargantuan, totem-festooned restaurant,” isn’t going anywhere — but it is shrinking.

The Wong family, which owns the iconic restaurant, is whittling it down to just 350 seats — still large, but a far cry from the 1,200 seats it currently holds, reports.

The family plans to build two new residential buildings on the site. During construction (which is likely two years out and still several permits away), Kowloon will remain open. Eventually, the current restaurant building will be torn down to make way for a 20,000-square foot space with apartments on the upper floors (during which time the restaurant will be temporarily relocated to another space on the property), also according to the report.

The news comes after frenzied speculation that Bay Staters might have to say goodbye to the beloved, kitsch-soaked icon of 1950s tiki culture, which has been open in one form or another for more than 70 years.

A smaller Kowloon won’t be the Kowloon where people went year after year,” Hannah Selinger lamented in her story The Soul of Saugus this March. However, the owners think it will be the Kowloon they can maintain as they age, especially since the new generation of Wongs won’t be involved in the same way.

Bob Wong’s maternal Chinese-born grandparents, Chun Sau Chin and Tow See Chin, debuted the restaurant in 1950. When it opened, it was called the Mandarin House and it held just 40 to 50 seats. It wasn’t until Madeline and Bill Wong bought out the first generation of owners in 1958 (and changed the name to Kowloon) that the restaurant grew to the cavernous size that now defines it.

Over the years, it became representative of that stretch of highway, documented in photos, once known for orange dinosaurs, a “leaning tower of pizza,” and other nostalgic roadside attractions from the 1950s.


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