SOUTH HADLEY – Andrew Yee, the prominent local restaurateur and businessman, whose contributions to the valley’s hotel scene have been extensive, has died at the age of 59.
In a social media announcement, Yee’s company, Bean Restaurant Group, said Yee died on Thursday. The cause of his death was not immediately revealed.
“Anyone who knew Andy knew his laughter was infectious, his personality larger than life, and he was always full of pride for his family and friends,” the statement read. “Our family appreciates your support and privacy during this time.”
Bean Restaurant Group started with Yee’s parents, Johnny and Linda, who founded Hu Ke Lau Restaurant in Chicopee in 1965, serving Cantonese and Polynesian cuisine which quickly brought the family success.
Andrew was one of the couple’s four children, and the catering group’s website said he and his siblings “grew up in Hu Ke Lau.” A profile of the Valley Lawyer in 2014 from Hu Ke Lau noted that Yee started chopping onions in the restaurant’s kitchen when he was 5 years old. The family closed the iconic restaurant in 2018.
“We all have fryolator oil flowing through our blood veins,” Yee said in a 2016 Gazette interview.
In a 2016 interview with The Gazette after restaurant group Yee’s opened Johnny’s Roadside Diner in Hadley, Yee described her family’s philosophy: “Give people good food and they will find us.”
Bean Restaurant Group has restaurants throughout the region including: Johnny’s Tavern and Iya Sushi and Noodle Kitchen in Amherst; Johnny’s Bar & Grille, Johnny’s Tap Room, Iya Sushi and Noodle Kitchen, The Boathouse and The Halfway House Lounge in South Hadley; Johnny’s Roadside Diner in Hadley; and White Hut and The Student Prince & The Fort in Springfield.
Most recently, Yee opened Wurst Haus in Northampton – a spinoff of Springfield’s iconic German restaurant, the Student Prince. In a tweet Friday, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz described Yee as a “champion of our Pioneer Valley economy”.
“Andy’s vision and positive energy was contagious and I will be forever grateful for his investments in Northampton,” Narkewicz wrote. “My condolences to the Yee family.”
Memories of Yee flooded from across the state on Friday as people mourned her death. Governor Charlie Baker, posting on Yee’s Facebook page, described his sadness that such an “incredible man” had passed away.
“A lightning bolt and a ray of sunshine to all who have known you,” Baker wrote. “God bless you and your beautiful and wonderful family. And I’ll see you at the bar on the other side. RIP my dearest friend.
U.S. Representative Richard Neal, D-Springfield, also shared his sadness at Yee’s death. In a statement, he said Yee was much more than a restaurateur. He was a family man, said Neal – a pillar in the community and “a visionary who was fiercely dedicated to making Pioneer Valley a better place.”
“The restaurants he helped build and run are places filled with celebration, laughter and fond memories – and that’s because of the kind of atmosphere Andy has created,” said Neal. “Everyone was welcome and everyone felt special. My history with the Yee family goes back decades and I am grateful for the friendship Andy and I have shared. I offer my sincere condolences to his wife, children, family and friends. He will be missed by all of us.
As a prominent local businessman, Yee was involved in politics, lobbying lawmakers and powerful interests, and donating money to Democratic and Republican candidates.
State campaign finance records show Yee gave $ 23,275 to Massachusetts candidates over two decades, including large donations to the Democratic State Committee, Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and the mayor by Springfield Domenic Sarno.
Yee grew up in South Hadley, where he made his greatest impact as a businessman and active member of the community.
“It was his hometown and he had an unwavering pride that anything was possible in and for South Hadley,” said city administrator Michael Sullivan, describing him as “the ultimate advocate” for his city. “The restaurants and other projects of him and his family create jobs, taxes and attractions that benefit the whole community,” Sullivan said. “Thanks to Andy Yee’s relentless lobbying, South Hadley was familiar to a wide range of movers, elected officials, investors and business people across the state.
As an example of Yee’s influence in South Hadley, Sullivan noted the rebirth of the Woodlawn Shopping Plaza, where Yee, Rocky’s Hardware President Rocco Falcone and Peter Pan Bus Lines CEO Peter Picknelly were building a complex. 72-unit apartments and extended Rocky’s retail space.
“His advocacy at the state level for funding for road improvements, for subsidies in this area, the fact that he brought investors … into the mix was really impressive.” Sullivan said. “He will be missed in so many ways.”
Yee was a supporter and mentor in the schools of South Hadley, noted Superintendent Diana Bonneville. Yee served as an advisor in establishing the student-run bistro The Tigers’ Den at South Hadley High School, for example, offering to make internships and co-op positions available to students looking for additional experience.
“Her help and guidance will always be remembered in creating our culinary program which will be a gem in our school community,” said Bonneville, offering condolences to Yee’s family and friends. “It is such a loss for our community.”
With businesses across the region, Yee’s presence has spread beyond his hometown.
Gabrielle Gould, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, said Yee’s passion and support for downtown Amherst and all of western Massachusetts was remarkable.
“The news this morning has been heartbreaking,” Gould said. “His heritage, his style and attention to detail, his kindness, his compassion and his forward thinking vision will carry on through his family and everything he has done.”
“He’s irreplaceable and it’s a huge loss for our entire region,” said Claudia Pazmany, executive director of the Amherst region chamber of commerce.
Pazmany, who said she was devastated when she learned of Yee’s death, remembers the ribbon cutting for Iya two years ago and appreciates that her family shared her “larger than life” personality at such events. events.
Yee, she added, exuded a passion for the hospitality industry, especially when opening a new business or pursuing a new project.
“His good character is woven into all aspects of his business; that’s what makes you want to be a regular at one of its many businesses, ”Pazmany said. “He knew we were all connected around one thing: food.
Writer Scott Merzbach contributed reporting for this story. Dusty Christensen can be contacted at [email protected]