Six Years Ago Today, Inside the Dusty Beginnings of a Chinatown Reincarnation

For this week’s edition of Throwback Thursday we go back exactly six years to the day I first toured what would – many months later – open as Chinatown’s Sai Woo restaurant.

Salli Pateman’s Asian-fusion restaurant launched in 2015 as a slick homage to the original Sai Woo Chop Suey, which operated in the same address from 1925 to 1959. Salli even went through the trouble and considerable expense of recreating the Cantonese restaurant’s striking original neon signage, which was finally installed in 2017. But I digress…

On this day, long before it was a finished, 113-seat eatery open to the public, I remember being especially taken by the vastness of the project (6,000 sqft); the potential of its promising underground Woo Bar; and all the little discoveries the team from Milltown Contracting had made over the course of their demo and build. Here are some of my notes from that morning:

“They’d already done all the heavy lifting of demolition, stripping, and cleaning, and were busily installing much of the framing. They’d discovered one or two (or three) gross things in the process, but also some cool things, like several extra feet of ceiling hight, a series of skylights, and a tiny trap door/deposit box recessed behind a false wall, which looked to have been built into the foundation of the building, once opening into the basement of the space next door (now boarded up).”

Take a closer look at Sai Woo’s dusty beginnings…

  • 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Plans detail | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    Plans detail | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Left to right: Kelly Reynolds, Chad Falkenberg, Anna Walentowicz, Justin Anello, Shilo Francis, Salli Pateman, Douglas Chang, Evan Creedon
    Left to right: Kelly Reynolds, Chad Falkenberg, Anna Walentowicz, Justin Anello, Shilo Francis, Salli Pateman, Douglas Chang, Evan Creedon
  • | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Dining room booths being framed | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    Dining room booths being framed | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Dining room detail | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    Dining room detail | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • From behind the bar, looking towards the front | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    From behind the bar, looking towards the front | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Kitchen and dining room | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    Kitchen and dining room | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Dining room detail | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    Dining room detail | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Looking from the kitchen to the front | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    Looking from the kitchen to the front | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Chef's view | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    Chef's view | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Open kitchen | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    Open kitchen | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • The view from the front | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    The view from the front | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • The view from the front | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    The view from the front | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • The view from the front | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    The view from the front | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Trap door discovery | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    Trap door discovery | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Downstairs hall | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    Downstairs hall | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • Rear entrance, stairwell | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    Rear entrance, stairwell | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • The downstairs lounge | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    The downstairs lounge | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
  • The downstairs lounge | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo
    The downstairs lounge | 158 East Pender St. | Sai Woo

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