Winter is too late for Tanyoto. The hot pot restaurant closed shop in Wan Chai yesterday with an unpaid tab: HK$700,000 in staff salaries.
The Chinese restaurant chain famous for its Sichuan spicy fish head has pulled out of Hong Kong where it set up its first outlet in Wan Chai in 2003. Its Kornhill restaurant, one of 11, was closed last month.
It is not clear why the chain pulled the plug just before the peak winter season when many Hong Kong people enjoy a warm gathering around a hot pot. Having said that, most restaurant chains in Hong Kong are struggling to survive amid rising rents and to hire enough workers, especially dish washers.
Closing a business is not unusual in this city, but the pro-China papers quickly jump to the conclusion that Tanyoto may have made an early exit because of concerns over Occupy Central.
To quote Kwok Wang-hing, chairman of the Eating Establishment Employees General Union, Tanyoto could have closed immediately because restaurants in the occupied areas were suffering losses of at least HK$200,000 each per day in the past week, while those in Sha Tin and Fanling were benefitting from the increased flow of travelers.
In Mong Kok, Little Sheep, a bigger rival of Tanyoto that is owned by United States restaurant group Yum!, reportedly lost more than a million dollars in business last week.
Just like the Inner Mongolia-based Little Sheep, Tanyoto is a Chinese food pioneer that wanted to conquer the world. It boasts a special cuisine with ingredients sourced from its 300-acre farm that is capable of supplying daily five tons of spices and sauces to its nationwide network.
As such, the hotpot chain which was set up by entrepreneur Tan Changan in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in 1998, aggressively expanded to other cities like Singapore, Taipei and Hong Kong. In 2007, Tanyoto was thought to be preparing for a listing and made public its aggressive plan to expand from 100 outlets to 1,000 outlets in three years.
But a check at the company’s website that was updated last year shows it had 24 restaurants in China.
We are not sure Hong Kong people have lost their appetite for hot pot, judging by the difficulty to book a table with inflation-beating prices. But the case should make investors worry about a similar mainland consumption play like Shanghai Xiaonanguo, which hopes to create an international branding in this city.
After all, Hong Kong is such a competitive gourmet capital where over 20,000 outlets compete daily with McDonald’s, three-star Michelin restaurants and local chains such as Cafe de Coral and Tsui Wah.
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