Boston’s iconic Kowloon restaurant, very recognizable to anyone who drove north on Route 1 from Boston, will be closing its doors. The closure is not the result of the COVID-19 woes that have plagued so many restaurants during the past year and a half, but rather of family members choosing not to continue the closely-held business, The Wall Street Journal reported.
In fact, Kowloon was quite creative during the pandemic, pivoting to offer COVID-safe dining experiences, such as outdoor seating in the parking lot and drive-in movies that could be enjoyed from the safety of one’s car. Additionally, the restaurant has continued with its program of outdoor events this summer, with not only movies but also concerts, block parties and more.
“We originally had 1,200 seats available, but now (because of the pandemic), it’s cut down,” the restaurant’s third-generation owner Bob Wong told PYMNTS in an interview in 2020. “So we were in a much more advantageous situation than most restaurants that are smaller and have had a tougher fight.”
Wong revealed to the WSJ that the family is likely to tear down the restaurant within the next few years. However, they are looking to redevelop the property, and a scaled-down version of the restaurant down the line is not out of the question. Based on Wong’s comments to PYMNTS, it is possible that the next iteration would be a more outdoor-focused space with a strong digital ordering component.
“Will we always have something outside?” he wondered. “It may or may not be the actual drive-in, but we will hopefully expand on maybe a different concept. But we do love the fact that we’re going toward where, even if we had 50 tables outside, we’ll have something that people would just order online versus having a wait staff.”
Part of this mobile order-ahead (MOA) strategy for even on-premise dining comes down to the ongoing staffing difficulties, with restaurants ranging from small neighborhood spots to major chains that have trouble offering a competitive enough wage to draw workers back in, Wong said. In fact, this labor shortage at the entry level mirrors the upper-level challenges that Kowloon is facing, with Wong revealing that the family’s younger generations have been seeking out careers in other fields.
Kowloon is just one of the millions of family-owned businesses facing the challenges of handing the business down to the younger generation. For instance, a 2021 survey by Family Enterprise USA found that 58 percent of family businesses saw their revenues decline in 2020. The survey also found that after peaking at the second generation, family involvement in the management of the business declines in each successive generation, with only an eighth of fourth-generation family members taking an active role, and only 5 percent of fifth generation. Although the survey had a small sample size — only 172 family business owners, executives and managers — the pattern is evident, both in individual cases such as Kowloon’s and on the macro level.