West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 18 | October 3 - 9, 2007

Villager photo by Corky Lee

May May owner John Hung with his moon cakes, a staple of Chinatown’s Autumn Moon Festival, which took place Sun., Sept. 30. Hung closed the family-owned business right after the festival.

Owner says family needs eclipsed moon-cake business

By Margarita Lopez

Workers diligently packed away baked and steamed delicacies in cardboard boxes at the end of last month during the last days of business of May May Chinese Gourmet Bakery.

On Sun., Sept. 30, owner John Hung, 55, closed up the 35 Pell St. shop his parents opened more than four decades ago.

“It’s so hard to let go,” Hung said. “But I’ve done my best in treating my customers good in all of these years.” Hung said rising rents are not the reason he is closing. The business is draining and he wants to spend more time with his family.

May May opened in 1965 and, at first, was just a small family-owned and -run business. In 1972, the business expanded due to a high demand for its products. Hung’s family opened a factory in Long Island City and continued to ship their goods throughout the East Coast as well as catering parties and special events. Hung is closing the factory as well.

Hung made sure to stay open for the Autumn Moon Festival on Sept. 30, when he baked the traditional moon cakes, filled with egg yolk, bean paste and fruit or jam.

The festival harkens back to when the ancient Chinese relied on the moon as a clock and guide for harvesting on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Moon cakes with letters inside were used as telegrams by Ming revolutionaries to overthrow the Mongolian dynasty.

In addition to moon cakes, May May was also known for its Chinese tamales, meat and sticky rice wrapped inside a green leaf.

Michael Lui, 39, a faithful customer for 15 years, called May May his favorite destination.

“I’m disappointed because it’s been here for so long,” Lui said. Like Lui, customers are upset about May May closing, but most sympathize with Hung for wanting to spend more time with his family.

When the gates were drawn down on the storefront for the last time, “people will know that I am closing the doors, but it’s opening new ones for me,” Hung said.

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