The best takeaway I got from the chief executive of Gingko House is that a social enterprise is not about favors. It’s about being competitive in order to survive.
This is the 10th year of Gingko House, and despite growing uncertainty over the economy, the restaurant operator will soon open its fifth outlet in Hong Kong.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to expand our elderly payroll and train new staff,” Joyce Mak said.
Mak noticed that the elderly need a job after retirement to make ends meet and that they often lead a healthier and happy life if they stay productive.
So she came up with the idea of a catering unit to promote senior employment.
But from day one, Gingko knew it could not rely solely on public support, even though the venture is for a good cause.
At the end of the day, customer compassion won’t last unless the restaurant offers a fair deal.
Gingko is determined to offer quality food and professional service standards to overcome any public reluctance toward the business.
At the same time, it hopes to attract — and keep — more discerning palates.
All of Gingko’s senior chefs have previously worked in hotels or major restaurants. The company also operates its own organic farm.
“We look at what the market is offering and create a menu that includes popular dishes and something special of our own,” Mak said.
Mak said Gingko’s unique taste comes from authentic soup base rather than flavor enhancers such as chicken powder or MSG (monosodium glutamate).
Gingko is not averse to hiring inexperienced waiters because this gives seniors from different backgrounds a chance at a new career.
Still, age won’t guarantee a job offer.
Catering staff are carefully selected to make sure they are fit to work and eager to do the job.
“It’s tiring and quite a big responsibility. Can you really handle that?” Mak usually asks this question during interviews.
They are also trained and led by professional caterers.
As one of the SME winners in last year’s Hong Kong Association for Customer Service Excellence Awards, Gingko has something to show for itself.
Mindful that`it needs new ideas to be a healthy organization, the company fills certain positions such as IT and marketing with younger people.
“We need young minds to bring in fresh ideas,” Mak said, noting that they are better than most at spotting new trends and using social media.
Not relying on government funding, Gingko has to make sure it can survive on its own.
“It’s a lot of pressure, so I always remind our staff their mission is to prove that the elderly can still do a great job. If they fail, and Gingko can’t get enough business, the company won’t be able to maintain its payroll,” Mak said.
Ultimately, Gingko hopes to inspire other companies to unleash the potential of senior workers.
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