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Kowloon Restaurant in Saugus sets the bar high with mai tais to go

By Elyse Carmosino | April 3, 2020

SAUGUS — With restaurants across the country forced to close their dining rooms due to the COVID-19 health crisis, Kowloon Restaurant in Saugus decided to make the best of the situation and offer to-go mixes of its most popular drinks.  

Owner Bob Wong said his family’s restaurant, a community mainstay since 1950, began offering mai tai and scorpion bowl mixes last Friday after frequent requests from customers wanting to know if they could purchase alcoholic drinks with their to-go meals. 

“We had so many customers coming in for takeout and they all wanted mai tais to go,” Wong said. 

Although Governor Baker may soon approve a law allowing takeout sales of beer and wine for the duration of the pandemic, Massachusetts liquor laws currently prevent restaurants from selling any hard alcohol to-go, prompting Wong and his staff to come up with a creative work-around. 

“Unfortunately, we can’t sell alcohol over the counter,” Wong said. “So we said ‘we’ll do the next best thing: offer the mix and tell people what alcohol to add with it.’ That’s how it got started.”

Packaged neatly in mason jars, the mixes are available at $11.95 for 32 ounces, and $6.96 for 16 ounces. 

“We didn’t realize how many we were going to sell in the beginning,” Wong said, adding he initially went to one of Kowloon’s suppliers, TriMark, and purchased 120 mason jars expecting the supply to last at least a week.  

“We put (the mixes) out late Friday night and sold maybe about two dozen and said, ‘oh, that’s pretty good,'” he said.  

By Saturday, however, the restaurant had sold its entire inventory. 

“We went so fast. It was already mid-afternoon and we’d sold out,” Wong said. “Naturally we couldn’t get any more from our supplier, so we ran around going to Walmarts and Targets in the area and bought up all their mason jars.”

After those mixes sold out, Wong and some remaining staff made a couple more batches, and he said the mixes continue to sell as customer reactions remain overwhelmingly supportive. 

“It’s a fun thing, especially with today’s situation,” he said. “I think people are looking for (something) different.”

Wong said that although he understands the necessity of closing his restaurant, he still worries about the staff he’s been forced to lay off and keeps in regular contact with his employees.  

“It’s tough,” he said. “My employees are itching to get back to work. I try to call a bunch of them each day just to keep in touch with them … I just hope everyone gets back to work soon.”