By ALAN SHACKLETON
A much-loved part of the community through five decades, the Honey Bee Chinese Food Restaurant on Queen Street East in the Beach is closing at the end of this month.
Michael Lau, who has owned the restaurant for the more than 43 years it has been in business, said the reason for the closure is that he has decided to retire.
The last day the restaurant will be open is Tuesday, Feb. 28.
Lau, 72, first opened the Honey Bee at 2028 Queen St. E. in 1980. Seven years ago, the Honey Bee’s location moved a little bit west to where the restaurant is presently located at 1976 Queen St. E., just west of Waverley Road.
“The reason is I’m retiring at the end of the month. After 43 years I am deciding I am done working,” Lau told Beach Metro Community News in an interview last week. “The lease is expiring and I think it’s time. I’ve been thinking about it for a few years and I decided I don’t want to work anymore.”
Lau said the reason for the closure has nothing to do with the rent he is paying at the building or any issues with the landlord.
He said he believes that a sushi shop will be moving into the location sometime in the future.
Lau lives in the Beach near Woodbine Avenue. He used to live over the original restaurant at 2208 Queen St. E., and he also owned that building. When Lau sold the building seven years ago he moved the restaurant further west and rented the present location.
He has lived in the Beach since he opened the restaurant, and his family grew up in the neighbourhood with all five children going to local schools – either Kew Beach or Williamson Road/Glen Ames.
At the age of 29, when he first opened the restaurant, Lau admitted he did not know too much about the Beach neighbourhood but he is glad he decided to relocate here from where he had been living in the north Toronto area. Lau first came to Canada from Hong Kong in 1975.
“It’s been a very good neighbourhood,” he said of the Beach. “It’s been a good place to work and my family has grown up here.”
While Lau has not yet put up a sign out front letting the community know this is their last month, he said he is telling customers who come in.
“They are very sad to hear it, and I’m sad too as they have been very good customers to us. The community has really supported us. I will miss the customers. A lot of them are saying ‘what will we do when you close.’”
Being in business for such a long time he said he has seen customers come in as young people, and then with their own children and later grandchildren.
“Sometimes we are serving three generations of customers. I know I will miss them,” said Lau.
He said food tastes when it comes to Chinese food have changed a bit since Honey Bee started in the Beach in 1980.
“We used to sell a lot of chop suey when we started. But now we also have Szechaun and Cantonese styles which are very popular,” said Lau.
“When we first opened what we also sold a lot of was coffee. I remember we would have big pots and sold so much coffee every day. Now I don’t think most days we even sell one cup of coffee.”
Not surprisingly, he attributes that to the many specialty coffee shops that are now located in the Beach, and people’s changing tastes for and attitudes towards coffee and how they buy it.
“People would come in and sit and just have a cup of coffee here, or buy one to go. but not anymore,” said Lau.
When Honey Bee first opened it did not have a liquor licence but when it got it they would also have customers who came in for beer and wine as well, he said.
Lau said he has no specific retirement plans beyond enjoying life in the Beach as a resident as opposed to a restaurant owner.
He said he’s looking forward to the chance to finally enjoy the many community events that take place along Queen Street East including the Beaches International Jazz Festival and the Toronto Beaches Lions Easter Parade.
“I told the kids for the last 43 years we’ve been serving the customers while they were enjoying the patio outside, and now we can be enjoying the patios. We can also enjoy the Jazz Festival and the parade instead of being too busy because we were working.”
Lau said he strongly wanted to express his thanks to Honey Bee’s many loyal customers over the decades and the support of the community.
“My thanks to all of our customers who came to us for so many years,” he said.