THE proprietors of Yut Kee Restaurant might not know they were so loved by the people of Kuala Lumpur had they not announced the closure of their 86-year-old shop in Jalan Dang Wangi.
Hordes of people, both young and old from different walks of life, made a beeline for the shop on Sunday to savour its signature dishes on its last day.
They did not mind waiting under the hot sun for a table, but Yut Kee’s smooth-flowing system and efficient workers made the wait shorter than expected.
In the crowd was lawyer Ian Ghee, 48, who was delighted that he was given the same table he always sat at for breakfast and kaya roll some 20 years ago while waiting for his wife Elaine Lai, 50, to finish work on Saturdays.
“My grandpa and dad brought me here. After that, I always come back and bring my overseas friends here. To me, this place is Malaysian,” said Ghee.
Yut Kee joined the ranks of other famous old eateries in Kuala Lumpur such as Yook Woo Hin in Petaling Street and Sin Seng Nam in Medan Pasar that had to close in recent years after more than 80 years in operation.
There is good news for fans of Yut Kee, however. The restaurant will continue serving its iconic delights from a nearby location — No 1, Jalan Kamunting — from Aug 25.
With marble-topped tables, teak chairs in traditional design as well as windows and floor tiles that invoke nostalgia, the new outlet strives to offer the old experience.
The proprietors had to rebuild the structure as the original one was fragile. The investment was about RM2.5mil, including the price of the new premises that they bought 12 years ago for RM1.2mil and RM800,000 on renovation.
“In life, you will lose certain things but hopefully, it is a blessing in disguise. When there are so many obstacles against you, maybe it is time to explore a new road,” said owner Jack Lee Kwong Hon, 70.
The old shop was opened by Lee’s father, Tai Yu, who was a chef for tycoon Choo Kia Peng’s family.
The premises has been taken back by its owners to build an eight-storey hotel.
Lee was offered to continue the business in the hotel but to him, it would not be the same. He said that he wanted to retain the coffeeshop setting.
The old shop — that looked the same for decades with plenty of antiques — had been swamped by people since they announced the closing date two weeks ago. Lee was overwhelmed.
“So many people wanted to take photos with me, I feel like a celebrity,” he said with a laugh. “But undeniably, the tinge of sadness is there.”
He said his son Mervyn was under a lot of pressure in trying to offer customers the best experience at the new place.
“I tell him that we cannot be perfect but we will do it better along the way.
“I am glad that the new shop has enabled us to design the kitchen that we always wanted. I think it will bring improvements to our service,” he said.
Besides the food and ambience, Lee’s affability may have contributed to Yut Kee’s popularity.
People come here to chill amid the city’s crazy traffic, calling this place an institution for the retired and tired. Chatting with him, you may even get some words of wisdom.
“Take life as it comes, if you cannot change it, do not bang your head against it”.
Not only does this answer why he takes on the new change and challenges, but also how he has remained hale and hearty at his age.
Yut Kee has been known as the hangout place for many famous and successful individuals, but Lee does not treat them better than his other customers.
“As I have told my son, we give every customer the same respect no matter how much they spend here,” he said.
Yut Kee has also hosted a fair share of mean customers but Lee dealt with them with reason and calmness.
“The Cantonese say there are a hundred types of people eating the same type of rice. Yut Kee has been a great training ground for me and my son,” he said.
Another customer, who has been a regular for 20 years, expressed sadness that the old shop was closing but nevertheless gave her approval to the new shop, saying it was spacious and breezy.
“I will miss sweating while eating in the old shop but I am happy that I can still get the same food, to be served by young blood in the family,” she said.
Many youths flocked to the restaurant too, taking selfies with the dishes and all the original decorative items there. An automatically generated Facebook page of the restaurant had 13,000 check-ins.
“We are glad we came in time to have a taste of the old shop. Yut Kee is so famous, we have heard about it so much even though we are from other states,” said college student Summer Heng, 22, from Johor.