Peter Yee was known as Mr. Crack Seed in 1970s
By Alan Yonan Jr.
Advertiser Staff Writer
Anyone who grew up in Hawai'i in the second half of the 20th century is sure to have sampled the flavorful preserved plums and other crack seed offerings created by Peter G.H. Yee and sold under the Yick Lung brand.
Yee and his brother Frederick took the preserved fruit treats, first brought to Hawai'i by Cantonese immigrants 100 years earlier, and transformed them into a staple in snack food aisles across the state.
Yee died last month in Fountain Valley, Calif. He was 87.
The brothers would take the preserved fruit they imported in bulk and add their own spices and flavorings to give the snacks a local twist.
A sprinkling of rock salt on the preserved plums created "rock salt plum." A bit of licorice mixed in with another batch produced "sweet sour seed." A dusting of savory powder on the dried plums resulted in "ling hing mui."
"They would add the flavorings then come up with the names for each one," recalled Sterling Yee, Peter's son.
Although the brothers weren't the first to bring in preserved fruit, or "see mui," from China, they are credited with being the first to mass market it through the company founded by their parents at the turn of the century. In one of the preserved plum varieties the pit of the preserved fruit was cracked to expose the kernel inside. From that grew the generic term of crack seed to describe the whole range of preserved fruit treats.
The brothers helped turn Yick Lung into a household name in the 1960s and 1970s with a marketing campaign that included a jingle, television commercials and promotions on the Checkers and Pogo children's television show. At the time, Peter Yee earned the nickname, "Mr. Crack Seed."
Yick Lung, which means "profitable enterprise" in Cantonese, was primarily a candy company when it was run by his grandparents, Yee Sheong and Kam Tai Leong, according to Sterling Yee. Peter and Frederick K.S. Yee, along with their nine other siblings, took over the company when their father Yee Sheong died in 1944.
Peter and Frederick bought out the other family members in 1950 and added crack seed to the lineup of Yick Lung snacks.
"They imported preserved fruit in bulk and added flavors depending on what they thought would sell here. They repackaged it and marketed it in retail locations," Sterling Yee said.
Peter and Frederick ran Yick Lung through the 1980s, with the help of Frederick's son, Douglas, who joined the company in 1969.
Peter retired from the company in 1983 and moved to Southern California. He sold his stake in the company to other family members in 1989. Frederick died in 1991 at the age of 74.
Yick Lung filed for bankruptcy in 1996 as it struggled to pay off tax debts and faced increasing competition from other snack distributors.
Peter Yee is survived by his wife, Delphine; other sons, Malcolm and Marvin; daughter, Beverly Reindollar; and five grandchildren.
Visitation is from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday at Nu'uanu Memorial Park & Mortuary, followed by a service.