A change of pace for restaurateurs

Kee and Sanny Young toast the end of an era at the New Canton Restaurant yesterday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Kee and Sanny Young toast the end of an era at the New Canton Restaurant yesterday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.

The chopsticks are about to be packed up at a Dunedin culinary institution. One of the city's oldest Chinese restaurants, the New Canton, is closing its doors.

''I want to sleep more. I'm getting on a bit,'' owner Kee Young joked yesterday.

''It's been seven days a week for 33 years and we need rest. I think I'll be 65 in September.''

Mr Young and his wife, Sanny, opened the original Canton in the Exchange in 1978, just across Princes St from the present restaurant.

''You couldn't get Chinese food then. No bean sprouts, or pastry, or noodles,'' Mrs Young (60) said.

''It was very difficult to buy our food, so we opened the restaurant. But it was too busy. We could only seat 50 and lost bookings, so in 1994 we moved across the road to here,'' she said.

''We had lots of nice customers; People like Billy T. James, Gary McCormick and David Lange used to be regular customers. People called us `Parliament Restaurant', because we had so many of those people.''

Mr Young later became something of a local identity, when he and his broken English featured as ''Captain Kee'' in a series of radio commercials for the business.

''After that, everyone would call me `Captain Kee','' he said, before erupting in a fit of laughter.

Mr Young emigrated to Dunedin from China when he was 13, although his grandfather, Shu Young, originally came to Otago as a young Chinese gold miner.

Mrs Young grew up in Macau and Hong Kong and has always been the chief cook at the restaurant.

''I started cooking when I was 8. My family had nine children and I was the second eldest, so I helped my mother look after the family.''

She came to Dunedin in 1978, aged 25, after marrying Mr Young in Hong Kong.

The Youngs are returning to China to help their elder son, Brendan, open a language school in Nanjing. Their adult children, Miranda (Auckland), Brendan (China) and Kay Ling (Dunedin), all grew up above the restaurant.

''There are lots of memories here. I will miss it. We might not get used to living in China and we might come back. But we will try,'' Mrs Young said.

''It's the end of an era,'' Mr Young said.

''We're still open for now and we've still got plenty of beer and wine, but you'll have to bring your own food. We've got no-one wanting to cook.''

And he burst into another fit of laughter. The New Canton will become the former Canton on February 1.

- nigel.benson@odt.co.nz

ODT/directory - Local Businesses

CompanyLocationBusiness Type
McMillans Specialist Drilling LtdQueenstownSpecialist Trades
C & M Garden ProductsMosgielGardening
Johnston Realty Ltd MREINZDunedinReal Estate Agents
Amity Health CentreDunedinMedical Centres