Andy Yee, prominent local restaurant owner, has died

Hampden County

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Well-known local restaurant owner Andy Yee has passed away at the age of 59. 

The Yee family announced in a statement that the restaurateur had died on Thursday.

“It is with great sadness that we announce that our brother, Andy Yee passed away on Thursday May 27, 2021,” the statement reads. “Anyone who knew Andy, knew that his laugh was contagious, his personality bigger than life, and he was always bursting with pride for his family and friends. Our family appreciates your support and privacy during this time.”

Yee owned several restaurants across western Massachusetts including Student Prince in Springfield, White Hut in West Springfield, and the popular Hu Ke Lau, which closed in 2018.

Yee established close relationships with many prominent state and local leaders, including Governor Charlie Baker and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, both of whom issued statements in tribute to their friend.

The governor posted to Yee’s Facebook page Thursday night, writing: “I am so sad you have left us here on Earth, you are an amazing man. A bolt of lightning and a ray of sunshine for everyone who knew you. God bless you and your beautiful and wonderful family, and I will see you at the bar on the other side. RIP my very dear friend.”

In a statement to 22News, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno reflected on the relationship he had with Yee, who he referred to as a longtime family friend, and offered his condolences and sympathy to close family and friends. 

“Carla and I had the opportunity to visit with him and his family just today.  Hoping and praying that this would not be the last goodbye – unfortunately, it was.  Just like his late father, Johnny Yee of Hu Ke Lau fame, Andy was so kind-hearted, visionary, and always that can-do attitude of why not and not only think big but do big.  Along with his dear friends Peter Picknelly and Kevin Vann, he not only rescued and helped thrive the again iconic and historic Student Prince and Fort restaurant, but also the White Hut, among the Yee’s family’s portfolio of restaurant establishments.”

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno

Sarno added, “He loved life – he loved to laugh – he loved to entertain.  He cherished and loved his family and his many dear friends.  This was a life and a talent taken away from all of us way too early.  May God rest his soul and the restaurant and entertainment scene will be changing a little bit in Heaven now too.  Until we meet again my friend, I’ll take the Wienerschnitzel and pu-pu platter to go.” 

Yee had a long career in the local restaurant industry. He was the son of Johnny Yee, founder of the Hu-Ke-Lau. The Chicopee Polynesian-themed restaurant and showclub closed in 2018, but other parts of Yee’s local restaurant empire grew.

“It was legendary for the shows they had. Besides the Polynesian show, he gave a lot of comedians and music acts their first shot,” said Sarno.

Yee and Peter Picknelly of Peter Pan Bus Lines re-opened the iconic Student Prince/The Fort restaurant in downtown Springfield in 2014, after the German eatery briefly went out of business; expanding the bar area and inaugurating new traditions, such as the annual Mighty Oktoberfest.

That wasn’t the only local landmark Yee helped bring back to life. In 2020, during the darkest days of the pandemic, Yee and Picknelly renovated and re-opened the White Hut, the iconic hamburger restaurant on Memorial Avenue in West Springfield.

Andy Yee connected with so many people throughout his career in western Massachusetts. 22News spoke with several people who worked with him through the years.

“Andy was the showman, he knew how to get it done, do it large, he had big vision and he got people motivated to get that vision done.”

Luke Brunelle, Brunelle’s Marina

“This is really one of those guys who comes around really once a century,” said Mike Baxendale, co-host of the Bax & O’Brien show. “He was the right guy to do it because he had the vision on how to make this special place that much more special. He really breathed a new life into it.”

State Representative Angelo Puppolo remembered his friend for much more than his restaurants.

“A compassionate, caring individual. It’s a huge loss,” said Puppolo. “He was not a big fanfare person. He would help families out and people in need, and you wouldn’t even know it. That’s the compassion, that’s the Johnny Yee in him – the apple doesn’t all far from the tree.”

The 22News team sends our condolences to Andy Yee’s family and friends.

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