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A Tradition of Caring Lives On

Gov. Charlie Baker, Sarah Yee

Gov. Charlie Baker, Sarah Yee, center, and Mercy Medical Center President Deborah Bitsoli at last month’s announcement of plans for the Andy Yee Palliative Care Unit.

Sarah Yee recalls that, during her husband’s final stay at Mercy Medical Center before he succumbed to cancer — a week in the intensive care unit in late May 2021 — there was some subtle “bending of the rules,” as she called it.

Most of it involved visitation, and, more specifically, the number of people who could visit and the hours when people could drop in, she noted. But there was more to it, especially efforts to make his room more like home, she said, adding that steps involved everything from the music playing — Earth Wind & Fire — to the Disney movies he would watch with family members, to pictures of family and friends that were brought in and placed around the room.

Summing it all up, Yee said that it wasn’t long before she called for an ambulance to bring Andy to Mercy for that final stay, that she decided that she didn’t want him to die at home.

Andy Yee was a successful entrepreneur

Andy Yee was a successful entrepreneur known for his passion for giving back. The palliative care unit is a continuation of that legacy.

“We love our house and the memories that we made here … but I didn’t want these to be our last memories of him,” she said, adding quickly that she did want him to die in a setting that was as close to home as she and family members could make it.

And the desire to enable others to enjoy that same home-like setting has prompted members of the Yee family, working in concert with those at Mercy Medical Center, to conceptualize the Andy Yee Palliative Care Unit, which is slated to open its doors before the end of this year.

Eight rooms are planned in space on the fifth floor of the hospital that had been a med-surg unit. Plans call for those private rooms, family respite places, private meeting rooms, and an outdoor terrace.

“This will be a specialized unit with specialized care,” said Deborah Bitsoli, president of Mercy Medical Center. “The rooms will have a particular color scheme, there will be a garden for the families, there will be particular types of furniture so the patients can stay overnight, and we will also outfit the rooms so some of the hospital equipment is behind walls, so that the environment would almost be like a home setting.

“The ICU is very institutional-looking,” she went on. “These rooms will not be institutional-looking; they’re going to look like a family room; this will be a very unique model for Springfield.”

The center will take the name of a man known for his many business accomplishments — he was a serial entrepreneur known in recent years for partnering with Peter Picknelly and others to save the Student Prince restaurant and then the landmark White Hut eatery — but also for his philanthropy.

At an elaborate press conference to announce the creation of the palliative care unit, staged last month in Mercy’s courtyard, several speakers, including Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, both of whom became friends with Yee in recent years, talked about how the facility would not only meet a need, but speak — and in dramatic fashion — to Yee’s passion for giving back.

Indeed, before talking about the new unit, what it would offer, and what it would mean for patients and their families, Bitsoli set the tone by first turning back the clock to the early weeks of the pandemic, when Yee arranged to bring a Peter Pan bus full of food for staff at the hospital.

“There was another time when I called Andy and said, ‘I need your help,’ and he immediately said ‘what can I do?’” she recalled. “I said ‘it’s been a tough day for the staff; I need 1,000 roast-beef sandwiches. He said ‘when?’ I said ‘tomorrow.’ He said ‘I’ll get them there.’ And he did get them there.”

This desire to give back to those at the hospital and to support employees continued until that last stay in the ICU, said Bitsoli, noting that before he fell gravely ill, Andy Yee and officials at Mercy were planning a large, thank-you-to-staff celebration that would take place in that same courtyard as the press conference. That celebration never happened, but the spirit that spawned it would inspire something with more-lasting impact on the hospital and the patients it will serve.

Indeed, in the latter stages of her husband’s battle against cancer, Sarah Yee said she had many conversations with Andy’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Glynn, Bitsoli, and others about how donations in Andy’s name to Mercy Medical Center might best be used. There was talk of funding additional infusion rooms, she said, referring to facilities where infusion therapy is administered to cancer patients.

But officials at Mercy identified a greater need — one for palliative care facilities that would cater to critically ill patients who are mostly at the end of their lives.

Such facilities are not common, said Bitsoli, noting that fewer than 20% of hospitals offer palliative care.

“There are not many units like this; it really takes a combination of a vision and particular type of expertise,” she noted, adding that the unit will be overseen by Glynn and Dr. Laurie Loiacono, chief of Critical Care at Mercy. “It also takes a particular type of administration that feels committed to providing that type of experience for patients and families. It’s a particular unit that is resourced and outfitted in a very unique way, and you have to be behind that vision — and we’re all behind that vision.

“As the population ages, there is considerable focus on palliative medicine, which focuses on how someone passes in a dignified way, in a setting where they are surrounded by loved ones and in a supportive manner,” she went on. “There is a level of expertise and specialty around that, and Dr. Glynn has that type of expertise.”

Those at Mercy have been involved with the project for several months now, said Bitsoli, adding that there have been meetings with architects and room designers to finalize color schemes and other aspects of overall design. A committee has been meeting every week to get updates and keep the project on track for a fall ribbon-cutting.

Tim Stanton, vice president of Philanthropy for Trinity Health of New England, Mercy’s parent company, agreed, and noted that there is clear need for such a facility in this region.

“Sometimes, a family may feel it is desirable to have the patient come home during those last days,” said Stanton. “But oftentimes, it’s not practical or logical. So we want to create an environment here that replicates many of the comforts of home.”

Stanton said Mercy has embarked on what he expects will be a six-month campaign to raise money to help defray the cost of the new unit, which he projects will cost between $500,000 and $1 million in its initial stage.

Those wishing to donate may do so by visiting https://give.mercycares.com/andy-yee-palliative-care-unit

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Anyone who knew Andy Yee knew how much he loved his family and friends, the restaurant business, good food, entertainment, and his community. And while many are mourning the loss of the legendary restaurateur, the Student Prince & the Fort will celebrate his life with a 60th birthday bash on Friday, June 11, featuring some of the things Yee loved.

The event take place indoors and outdoors at 8 Fort St. in Springfield beginning at 5 p.m. It will kick off with a proclamation by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, a welcome by Yee’s restaurant partner and friend Peter Picknelly, and a word from Rudi Scherff, longtime former owner of the Fort.

The menu will include Yee’s favorite dishes from the Fort kitchen, while the Fort bar will serve his favorite drink menu, and, because Yee loved music, a lineup of live music will be offered with no cover charge.

Opinion

Editorial

By George O’Brien

 

Andy Yee

Andy Yee

Andy Yee, who passed away late last month, was the true definition of a serial entrepreneur. Even though he had a number of businesses, especially restaurants within the Bean Group, he was always looking for that next challenge, that next opportunity.

He took on each project with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm that was as inspiring as it was contagious. And many of his undertakings were not just business ventures — they were game changers in our local communities, difficult yet successful efforts to save institutions such as the Student Prince in downtown Springfield and the White Hut in West Springfield from being relegated to the past tense.

In 2015, BusinessWest named Yee and several of his business partners, including Peter Pan Chairman and CEO Peter Picknelly and Kevin and Michael Vann, as Difference Makers for their efforts to save the Student Prince. And that title certainly fit him. He was a difference maker as a business owner and entrepreneur, as a family man, and as a leader in the community.

“He was a difference maker as a business owner and entrepreneur, as a family man, and as a leader in the community.”

The Student Prince was struggling when Yee and Picknelly stepped forward. Theirs was a business proposition, to be sure, but it was much more than that. It was an effort to save something that had become a part of the fabric of the city and of the region. It was more about community than it was about dollars and cents — although Yee, a very smart businessperson, was also focused on the dollars and cents as well.

The same was true with the White Hut in West Springfield — a different kind of restaurant, to be sure, but with a very similar brand of emotional attachment. Today, both establishments live on, and Yee is a huge reason why.

As a business writer who interviewed him dozens of times over the past two decades, I was always struck by how energetic he was, how hands-on he was in every endeavor he became involved with, and how he always had one eye on the present and the other on the future, trying to anticipate what was to come and be ready for it.

That is the essence of a leader, and that’s another word that fits Yee like a glove.

His latest endeavor is a restaurant project in Court Square in Springfield, another landmark that needed someone to step forward and give it a new direction, a new future. Yee was part of a large team doing just that.

We sincerely hope this project moves forward. It will be difficult without his leadership, his enthusiasm, and his ability to get the tough projects done. It will be a fitting tribute — yet another one — to how he had the ability to not only open a business, but change a community for the better — and make a huge difference.

He will be missed.

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — When the iconic White Hut restaurant on Memorial Avenue went up for sale in 2020, restauranteur Andy Yee of the Bean Restaurant Group and Peter Picknelly purchased the 81-year-old landmark, which was founded in 1939. After intensive renovation, the White Hut reopened under the direction of Yee and the Bean Group.

Now, with the news that Yee passed away one week before his 60th birthday, the White Hut announced a three-day birthday celebration. In honor of what would have been Yee’s 60th birthday, the White Hut will offer 60-cent hot dogs and 60-cent fountain drinks from Friday, June 4 through Sunday, June 6. These weekend birthday treats will be available from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. all three days.

It’s a small tribute for a giant in the local restaurant industry, and a genuine way to celebrate Yee, who made the White Hut new again.

Daily News

Andy Yee, who passed away Thursday, was the true definition of a serial entrepreneur. Even though he had a number of businesses, especially restaurants, he was always looking for that next challenge, that next opportunity.

Andy Yee

Andy Yee, 1961-2021

And he took on each project with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm that was as inspiring as it was contagious. And many of his undertakings were not just business ventures — they were game changers in our local communities, difficult yet successful efforts to save institutions such as the Student Prince in Springfield and the White Hut in West Springfield from being relegated to the past tense.

In 2015, BusinessWest named Yee and several of his business partners, including Peter Pan Chairman and CEO Peter Picknelly and Kevin and Michael Vann, as Difference Makers for their efforts to save the Student Prince. And that title certainly suited him. He was a difference maker as a business owner and entrepreneur, as a family man, and as a leader in the community.

As a business writer who interviewed him dozens of times over the past two decades, I was always struck by how energetic he was, how hands-on he was in every endeavor he became involved with, and how he always had one eye on the present and the other on the future, trying to anticipate what was to come and be ready for it.

That is the essence of a leader, and that’s another word that fits Yee like a glove.

His latest endeavor is a restaurant project in Court Square in Springfield, another landmark that needed someone to step forward and give it a new direction, a new future. Yee was part of a large team doing just that.

We sincerely hope this project moves forward. It will be difficult without his leadership, his enthusiasm, and his ability to get the tough projects done. But when it’s complete, it will be a fitting tribute — yet another one — to how Andy Yee had the ability to not only open a business, but change a community for the better, and make a huge difference.

He will be missed.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Episode 47: Jan. 11, 2021

George O’Brien talks with Andy Yee, president of the Bean Restaurant Group

Andy Yee

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Andy Yee, president of the Bean Restaurant Group. The two discuss the ongoing plight of area restaurants as they battle the pandemic, ever-tighter restrictions on their operations, and the onset of winter. They also discuss the various forms of relief restaurants are receiving and whether they will be enough to help them withstand the many challenges they are facing. It’s must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local.

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Economic Outlook

Restaurants

Andy Yee was still slogging — his word, and he would use it more than a few times — through the holiday season when he talked with BusinessWest for this Outlook section. But he was already thinking about the next one and what it might be like.

And his thoughts were colored with optimism.

“I think there is going to be a lot of pent-up demand,” he said, referring to that day when the clouds eventually lift and people feel confident returning to restaurants and especially indoor dining. “People have been cooped up a long time. I know people who haven’t been out, and have barely left their houses, since March. When this is over, people are going to be ready to get out and go on the town.”

While he feels confident in that assessment, and even offered a timeline of sorts — projecting some improvement by spring as vaccines are rolled out, much more by summer, and perhaps something approximating normal by Q4, or certainly next holiday season — what he doesn’t know is how many restaurateurs currently doing business in the region be along for that ride, whenever it does come.

Andy Yee

Andy Yee

“People have been cooped up a long time. I know people who haven’t been out, and have barely left their houses, since March. When this is over, people are going to be ready to get out and go on the town.”

Indeed, several have already been forced to shut their doors, he said, and others will be challenged to survive what will likely be another several months of slogging, even with the promise of additional help coming in the form of support from the state.

“January and February are traditionally leaner months — people have that holiday hangover, although I’m not sure what that will be like this year,” he noted. “It’s going to be hard for some people to hang on. There will be some casualties; there will be more closures.”

There have been several already, due directly to COVID-19 or perhaps the pandemic accelerating the timeline for retirement, said Yee, adding quickly that the number of additional losses to the landscape will be determined by a number of factors, from how quickly and effectively vaccines reach the general population to the level of confidence people have with going back out again, even with a vaccine, to the overall experience level and savvy of the restaurateurs in question.

“This really will be survival of the fittest,” he told BusinessWest, adding that his definition of ‘fittest’ is those with the experience and will to maneuver through this whitewater. “There are some people who have been doing this a long time, and this is a tough business; these are the ones who will probably buckle down and adjust to leaner times.”

Summing up 2020 and speaking for everyone in his sector, Yee said it’s been a long, long, long haul.

Indeed it has, a nine-month stretch of restrictions that have varied in their severity, but have been generally punitive to restaurateurs, limiting how, where, and when they can serve diners. Some have fared reasonably well with takeout, outdoor dining, and reduced indoor seating, he noted, but none are doing anything approaching what they were doing a year ago, revenue-wise.

And many have decided they can’t continue to slug it out, he said, noting closures up and down the Pioneer Valley and also in the Berkshires. As bad as it’s been, it’s been far worse in major cities with much higher commercial lease rates, he told BusinessWest, adding that Boston has been devasted, and perhaps 35% of all the restaurants in New York will chose for good due to the pandemic.

Despite the devastation, the pandemic did provide some positive learning experiences, especially when it came to outdoor dining, something few restaurants had tried, but now were all but forced to undertake. It’s something that may become a permanent fixture.

“It has been a good learning experience for us,” he said, citing the Student Prince in Springfield as perhaps the best example from within the Bean Group of an establishment that invested heavily in outdoor dining and saw some success. “We are going to try to emulate that and duplicate that next year.”

Looking ahead, he does have confidence that the vaccines are cause for optimism, and also that, when this pandemic is over, people will go back to their old habits of dining out — a question that many have been asking over the past several months as the discussion turns to how the pandemic may change societal norms for the long term.

“I agree with people who say we can see the finish line with COVID,” he told BusinessWest. “My feeling is that, by March, things will start to loosen up a little; by the summertime we’ll be back to some kind of new normal, whatever that means; and in the fourth quarter we’ll roar back with people going out and celebrating.”

Meanwhile, for the entrepreneurial — and he certainly falls into that category — there will be opportunities within this sector as the pandemic draws on and more establishments grow weary of the fight.

Yee said he’s already received a number of calls from individuals looking to sell, and he expects those calls to keep coming.

In that respect, 2021 might see many more changes to the landscape in this important sector.

 

—George O’Brien

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