Nick McManus, 34, grew up in Whitestone with his family. McManus’ grandfather, Michael Russo, was one of King Yum’s first customers after it opened in 1953. It was there where Russo met Jimmy Eng, owner of King Yum. The two began a friendship which spanned over five decades, only ended by Eng’s passing in 2008. Russo continued to frequent the restaurant with three generations of his family until he passed away in 2014.
After 63 years of service, Cantonese eatery King Yum closed for good on Tuesday, Aug. 30.
“It was the best Chinese cuisine and the best service until the end,” remembered McManus.
Before they no longer had the opportunity, McManus and his family knew they had to experience one last Friday night karaoke, as well as one final Sunday night dinner at King Yum.
McManus brought a group of friends from Queens and Brooklyn to experience the final Friday karaoke night, which frequently went on long into the night with the help of the restaurant’s tiki bar.
“The tiki drinks were strong. They did not make weak drinks there,” laughed McManus.
Two days later, McManus returned with his family to sit down and enjoy their final Sunday dinner at King Yum.
“It was not a sad event,” McManus noted. “It was always, ‘Hi, hello, what can I get you?’ right up until the very end.”
For owner Robin Eng — Jimmy’s son — and long-time manager Helen Lee, the final days were bittersweet; but the two were always out conversing with their patrons, eager to soak up every moment.
“On the last night they were strong and willing,” said McManus. “Helen’s exact words were, ‘It had to end sometime.’ And it was sad, but it was true.”
Today, McManus resides in Sunnyside and works for a film company. His artistic photographs of King Yum fit well into his latest creative venture: documenting local businesses closures around New York City using Polaroid film.
“It’s that art of getting everyone together,” said McManus. “I have to really encourage people; get their attention. No one can really stand to the side.”
While going through his archives, McManus stumbled upon some older Polaroids of his grandfather and Eng.
“When I dug up the photos of Jimmy and my grandfather, I cried,” said McManus. “I could be a kid again, eating noodles.”
Before the closing, Eng and Lee gave McManus a menu from the restaurant to keep, which he mailed to his grandmother, Rachel, in Florida. The two also gifted his family one of the restaurant’s iconic tiki glasses, which his mother, Cynthia, now holds onto.
“I really appreciated that,” said McManus. “It was such a wonderful final gesture.”