Competition among restaurants and bars in Hong Kong is always keen. So it’s not unusual to see old ventures winding up while new ones emerge.
Still, whenever a noted restaurant announces that it is downing its shutters, there is a lament from loyal customers. Some would put the blame on the city’s property landscape, urging the public to boycott chain restaurants and to support small shops only.
The local media and the public have tended to romanticize the “old” restaurants in recent years. However, every outlet has its own story to tell. The landlords or deep-pocketed consortia could be reasons, but they may not be the only factors behind all business closures.
In one example, a much celebrated satay restaurant closed due to its apparent failure in contract renewal. Diners were upset and felt sympathetic toward the restaurant owner.
But the reality was that the restaurant had been affecting the business of other tenants inside the mall over the years, and so the landlord required the owner to renovate the unit as the necessary condition for contract renewal.
According to local media reports, the restaurant often operated its business by placing extra tables and chairs in corridors. However, it didn’t bother to clean the premises regularly, causing hygiene problems.
The tenant in the shop right beneath the restaurant complained that the ceiling was affected by sewage, thanks to the restaurant’s always leaking pipes. The ventilation system was also very outdated, resulting in oily fumes tainting the windows upstairs.
Restaurant license holders should meet the standards in terms of hygiene, fire safety, ventilation system, architectural structure, and so on. But some old outlets fail on this count.
Worse still, many restaurants open in non-designated units inside the buildings. The nuisance created is even more obvious.
Regardless of being old or new, a restaurant operation undeniably makes an impact on the surroundings. If the operator is not self-disciplined, or messes up the place, he or she will be running a business at the expense of others.
While it is already awful that quite a few of the operators are reluctant to improve the conditions of their ageing ventures, the media somehow tries to justify the state of chaos, if not praise, the ventures.
It doesn’t make sense that old restaurants must appear like relics of historic buildings where they will remain dilapidated.
Let me make another illustration. The dai pai dongs on Central’s Stanley Street underwent complete renovation a few years back, yet as of today the street is still rather filthy with sewage and oil stains. By nightfall, the area is rat-infested.
While we are advocating “supporting small shops” for the sake of safeguarding “collective memories”, have we ever given thought to the fact that such moves could come at the expense of others’ welfare?
In my opinion, the ultimate reason for the death of the old restaurants lies in the problem of business succession. The younger generation simply doesn’t want to run the business anymore.
When you enjoy fishballs from some renowned local food stalls, did you ever think that you would like your own kids to become apprentices and learn to make those food items?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 19.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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