When Buoy Lee, owner and founder of the Hong Kong Chinese restaurant, first walked by the property on 1238 Mass. Ave. in 1954, she could sense its potential.
“I thought to myself—jeez, that place has feng shui,” Lee said.
This week, as the Kong, as the restaurant is affectionately known among students, prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary, Lee and her family reflected on the growth of the business and its landmark status in Harvard Square.
“We are constantly reinvesting in the restaurant,” Paul Lee, Buoy Lee’s son and restaurant manager, said. “I saw it as they built a legacy and I’m just trying to build on that.”
Although Buory Lee was around 20 years old when she emigrated from her native Canton, China, to the United States, she managed to make the restaurant a success, eventually opening up a second location downtown at Faneuil hall.
“I came over here, I didn’t know nothing, I was so scared when I came,” Buory Lee said. “I was born in China poor—no money, no nothing. That’s why when I came here I didn’t mind working hard.”
According to Paul Lee, Buory Lee and her late husband invested in infrastructure like sprinklers that proved to be beneficial in the long term.
That vision has helped the Hong Kong restaurant continue to grow over the past 60 years. This week, the Lee family celebrated both the Chinese New Year and another special achievement—a “Cornerstone of Harvard Square Award” from the Harvard Square Business Association.
“They are a wonderful family, a terrific landmark, wonderful community partners, and long time members of the Business Association,” said Denise A. Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association.
Although Paul Lee cannot recall what month specifically marks the commemoration of their founding, the family plans to formally celebrate the occasion in the spring.
After originally operating a laundry shop in Brighton, Buory Lee and her husband decided to open the Hong Kong with three other partners, who no longer hold a share in the business.
Although Harvard Square was not the best business environment in those days, Buory Lee said, she predicted that the Square would improve.