Landmark McCully eatery from 1940s will close
A manager says 'it was a difficult decision' to close McCully Chop Sui
McCully Chop Sui, a longtime favorite and local landmark for more than 50 years, will be closing its doors at the end of this year.
The Chinese eatery, which dates back to the 1940s, has been owned by three different family groups: the Laus and Louis, the Chans, and most recently the Lees.
The restaurant has been at the corner of McCully and South King streets for the last 50 years, becoming a point of reference for neighboring businesses.
Chik Nung Lee, 57, is the current owner.
"Our lease was expiring, and with the expiring lease, we made the decision to close our doors," said Geoff Thom, business manager. "It was a difficult decision."
Thom added that rising expenses, along with long hours and challenges of finding help, contributed to the decision.
Thom's wife, Jessica Thom, is the daughter of Lee, and ran the business with her father and a staff of about a dozen people. Aunties, uncles, cousins, the cousins of cousins and friends all pitched in at the restaurant, which is open until 10 p.m. early in the week, and until 11 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday.
Among the regulars at McCully Chop Sui are families who gather there after baseball and volleyball games, as well as those who come to celebrate birthdays, Mother's Day and even weddings.
Local Chinese-style comfort food can best describe the restaurant's menu, with generous portions served for low prices, generally under $10. Favorites include gau gee, won ton min, saimin, cake noodles, chow fun, lunch plates and fried rice dishes.
Specialty dishes include the prawns and honey-glazed walnuts, pig stomach with ginger onion, sweet and sour pig feet, and beef stew with tendon over lettuce.
Thom said the staff recognized customer names and faces, among them a regular nicknamed Ah-bak (Cantonese for uncle), who is the "No. 1 daily customer."
Ah-bak comes in regularly for his meals, always ordering something different, Thom said.
For others, McCully Chop Sui became a regular Friday ritual. The restaurant has the capacity to seat almost 70, including a mezzanine for special parties.
"You get to know what people eat and how they eat it," Thom said. "We'll miss our customers. ... It's really sentimental."
Neighboring retailers say they use McCully Chop Sui, with its neon corner sign, as a reference point for customers.
"Everyone knows where McCully Chop Sui is," said Susan Reaver, owner of the Closet Chick a few doors down. After McCully closes its doors, Reaver, who just opened her business in August, said she will probably give directions based on "where the old McCully Chop Sui is."
Lori Rodriguez, a member relations representative at the University of Hawaii Federal Credit Union, said the restaurant gives her childhood memories. She went there as a young child with family, and returned with her own children.
"I'm sad to see them go," Rodriguez said. "It's family-style, and there's plenty of variety."
Rodriguez and many of her colleagues at the credit union, just a few doors down on South King Street, go to McCully Chop Sui regularly for lunch.
Across the street, Richard M. Fujie, who just opened King Street Pet Hospital in September along with Shelby Young Goo, says the restaurant goes back to his college days. Fujie says he would go to McCully Chop Sui late at night when he was a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the mid-1970s. Today, the restaurant is much like he remembered it, he said.
Matthew Gray, former chef and food critic who now owns Hawaii Food Tours, said the restaurant is one of his two favorite local Chinese hole-in-the-walls.
Unfortunately, said Gray, as many mom-and-pops close their doors, a part of local history goes with them. Higher rents in recent months are ushering in more chain restaurants.
JMC Property Partners, the owners of McCully Chop Sui's building, confirmed that the restaurant's lease will end next month. A new tenant, Mauna Kea Galleries, which currently has a shop at Kamuela on the Big Island, will take over the lease in January.
Lee moved to Hawaii in the mid-1980s from Guangdong, China, with extensive cooking experience. He became the owner of McCully Chop Sui in 1999 to carry on the restaurant's traditions.
Thom said the Lee family wanted to keep the prices down for customers.
"People know when you raise prices," he said. "It would not be the same if entrees were above $10. ... We wouldn't do customers justice heading down that route."