Iconic Ho Ho restaurant set to reopen in Chinatown once final renovations complete – BC

Carol Lee is nearing the end of a marathon restoration.

“It’s been a very long, arduous journey,” the philanthropist and Vancouver Chinatown Foundation chair told Global News.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver’s Chinatown seeing restaurant revival with Ho Ho set to reopen'

Vancouver’s Chinatown seeing restaurant revival with Ho Ho set to reopen

Since 2015, Lee has been working to relaunch the iconic Ho Ho Restaurant in its original location in the Sun Ah Hotel on Pender Street at Columbia.

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Vancouver city council recently approved a grant of up to $50,000 for the rehabilitation of the principal façade of the 1911 heritage building – including replicating the historic establishment’s sign in “true neon” tubing.

The money is just a drop in the bucket towards the total price tag of reviving the landmark – but Lee said she’s determined to succeed at any cost.

New Ho Ho Restaurant manager Jason Ye said they are waiting for a building permit upgrade to be approved by the City of Vancouver before contractors begin work on the final stretch.

“Once it’s approved, we can start renovations again and I expect in six months we’ll get the project complete here,” Ye said.

Renovations to the main floor of 102 East Pender will begin to recreate the original Ho Ho dining room once a city building permit upgrade is approved.

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When it opened in 1954, the original Ho Ho anchored a neon strip of nightlife in the heart of Chinatown.

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Known for its bright neon sign, which featured a bowl of noodles and chopsticks, the restaurant served homestyle Cantonese cooking for more than four decades.

Diners on the mezzanine level of the original Ho Ho Restaurant.

Jim Wong-Chu

“It was a place where people would come when they first moved here from all parts of the world – where Vancouverites used to celebrate different birthdays, anniversaries,” said Lee.

The original Ho Ho Restaurant opened in 1954 at 102 East Pender Street in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Jim Wong-Chu

Her late father, business leader and philanthropist Robert Lee, discouraged her from trying to recreate a piece of history in a more than century-old SRO building, which is located on a flood plain.

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“He goes, are you crazy? You can’t open it, too complicated.”

Read more:

Iconic Ho Ho Restaurant set to reopen in Vancouver’s Chinatown early next year

But Lee, who believes restaurants are the key ingredient in the recipe for Chinatown’s revitalization, persevered.

She opened the Chinatown BBQ on the same block in 2017, and the restaurant has seen unexpected success.

“I thought the Ho Ho would probably be the granddaddy of that,” said Lee.

“If we could reopen the Ho Ho, Chinatown’s back.”

The original Ho Ho sign on the Sun Ah Hotel building in 1960.

City of Vancouver Archives

When the original Ho Ho sign was removed in 1997, Foo’s Ho Ho Restaurant moved in on the ground floor for more than a decade before Lee took over the business in 2015.

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Burnaby-based Galaxie Signs, which has constructed similar marquees for Chinatown Plaza and the New Town Bakery, was hired in 2016 to reproduce the original Ho Ho Restaurant’s vintage neon sign.

The original Ho Ho neon sign lighting up Chinatown in 1960.

Galaxie Signs

Somy Basakha said Galaxie received the design concept from heritage consultant John Atkin, along with some 1960 photos.

“It took us 13 revisions to finish and get all the approval from the City of Vancouver, heritage department and the client,” Basakha told Global News.

The new nine-metre-plus sign is made of aluminum and composite material to withstand the weather, and after 400 human hours of work, Galaxie said it is 75 per cent finished.

A closer look at the signature bowl of noodles and chopsticks on the original Ho Ho sign.

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Like the original marker, it refreshes the signature bowl of noodles with chopsticks while Galaxie had to improvise to include the zig-zag tag line and pagoda from the building’s canopy, which is no longer there.

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The Sun Ah Hotel in the late 1990s after the Ho Ho sign was removed.

City of Vancouver Archives

Those recreated features will instead be added to the front wall.

“We are so excited to bring back part of history to that area,” said Basakha.

Ye, who also manages the Chinatown BBQ, said many seniors are eager to dine at the Ho Ho again.

“They’ve been asking me, Hey, when’s the Ho Ho open again?,” said Ye.

“They even come to Chinatown and look around and see if the doors are open.”

Lee said they will be bringing back old menu items – including the chicken stuffed with sticky rice – the number one dish people request.

Click to play video: 'Community coming together to help Chinatown restaurant devastated by fire'

Community coming together to help Chinatown restaurant devastated by fire

With an appetite for memories and community, SFU City Program director Andy Yan believes the sign and restaurant from Chinatown’s past will light a brighter future for the neighbourhood.

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“It’s a journey of many steps and of course, this is a big leap,” Yan told Global News in an interview.

The Ho Ho he said, is a tremendous icon for the community and Metro Vancouver and has brought generations of people from all backgrounds together.

“You have people who have eaten there when they’re from 80 to eight,” said Yan.

“It is one of those institutions that connect Vancouverites just right across the spectrum.”

Read more:

‘I’ll be back’: Gain Wah owner vows to try to restart Chinatown restaurant after devastating fire

Ye said the new restaurant will replicate the original main floor dining room, and have a dumbwaiter to carry food from the basement to the ground and second floors.

The original main floor dining room of the Ho Ho Restaurant in the 1950s.

Jim Wong-Chu

The second level, which will retain the original red tile walls at the back, will feature a 12-seat mezzanine bar with a view of Pender Street and event space seating for up to 100 guests.

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The view of Chinatown from what will be a 12-seat bar on the mezzanine of the new Ho Ho Restaurant in Vancouver.

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Lee, who had hoped to see the Ho Ho open in 2022, now plans to have the legendary eatery up and running by this summer – but that timeline is contingent on city permitting and building repairs.

“This year I think, I feel pretty confident that it’ll open in 2023,” said Lee.

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Diners enjoying a meal on the mezzanine level of the original Ho Ho Restaurant.

Jim Wong-Chu

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