Sea-Hi Chinese restaurant sets sail after nearly 60 years in North York – Toronto Sun

Restaurant News

Though it was a Chinese restaurant, it’s known as a Jewish institution in North York.

Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Restaurant, one of Toronto’s most iconic chop suey houses, is closing after 59 years in the Bathurst St. and Hwy. 401 area. When the owners of the restaurant announced on Facebook its last day was Feb. 29, the outpouring of support from the community encouraged them to negotiate an extra week extension with their landlord.

The restaurant is now set to close on March 8.

“Every teacher and manager in the private school that was Jewish would say they’d been going to Sea-Hi since they were a child and their grandparents took them there and that’s how they were introduced to it as a Sunday gathering spot,” said owner Stanley Chui’s daughter, Melanie.

The closure is for a couple of reasons — the landlord wants to turn the property into a retail store and her father, now 69, is ready to retire. His five grown children all have their own careers and none are too keen to take over the time-consuming family business.

Last year, Stanley put the establishment up for sale for $100,000 but there were no takers.

The restaurant was opened by Edna Chan in 1955 at Dundas and Bay Sts. and in 1961, she opened a second location — the current spot — at 3645 Bathurst St. and subsequently closed the Chinatown restaurant a year later.

Stanley Chui purchased Sea-Hi in 1977 and has been running it with his family ever since.

“He’s very sad, it’s kind of defined his life,” said Chui, 39. “For me, it’s emotional. I used to do my homework behind the counter growing up. I had my birthday parties there from one to 14.”

When Chui was 15, she recalled a neighbourhood power outage that attracted people in as Sea-Hi was run on gas and the woks were firing.

“Literally, I was walking around, lighting candles and the restaurant was completely packed for dinner,” she said.

Sea-Hi, based on proximity alone, attracted swaths of the Jewish community — often the Chinese restaurant’s best patrons. The place has always been full on Christmas Day.

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Former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman was a regular, as was ex-finance minister Robert Caplan. The late Mark Dailey from Citytv loved the food and singer Alannah Myles would often pop by after her recording sessions in the ’90s, Chui said.

It was the backdrop for the documentary “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas,” which had a cameo by Barenaked Ladies’ Steven Page. In 2017, the Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon film, “Where the Truth Lies,” was shot in the restaurant.

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“Kevin Bacon was quite charmed by my dad and they actually named the server in the movie after him — they called him Stanley,” she said.

Chui said customers have been lining up 90 minutes for some Sea-Hi’s signature dishes — bacon-wrapped deep-fried chicken sticks, Vancouver ribs and garlic sticky ribs, created by Edna Chan and her husband.


Owner Stanley Chui, at his Sea-Hi Famous Chinese Restaurant, near Bathurst St., near the 401 in Toronto, Ont. on Thursday February 27, 2020. When the owners of the restaurant announced on Facebook its last day was February 29, the outpour of the community encouraged the owners to negotiate an extra week extension with their landlord. The restaurant is now set to close on March 8. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/Postmedia

“These dishes are usually sold out by 7 p.m.,” she said. “My dad never changed them. Even the interior decor, people are always saying how it looks like it’s from the ’50s.”

People took to social media to express their sorrow over the closure.

“First, it was (Katz’s) Deli, now Sea-Hi,” said Randy Brill. “Always support independents over the chain restaurants. That’s what makes a community.”

The restaurant’s furniture and decor are up for auction, including the infamous golden buddha, with proceeds going to Baycrest Hospital and North York General Hospital.

Chui said she believed the demand for chop suey houses — Westernized Chinese food restaurants — is dwindling because people’s palettes are more sophisticated.

“I think we’ve lasted so long is because of nostalgia,” she said. “People associate Sea-Hi with childhood memories. There are still quite a few of these restaurants — House of Chan being one of them — and there are iterations in food courts, but I see it dwindling some more.”

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