21 January 2020
An abalone dinner may be fit for a king, but there are a lot of cheaper and healthier alternatives. Photo. YouTube
An abalone dinner may be fit for a king, but there are a lot of cheaper and healthier alternatives. Photo. YouTube

Tycoons doing well, but not their favorite eateries

Most, if not all, business tycoons (富豪, Fu Ho) in Hong Kong are having a bountiful year this year, but that’s not the case with one restaurant many of them enjoy visiting.

After 21 years of service, the famous Fu Ho Restaurant in Causeway Bay is set to close this December, according to a local newspaper.

The outlet is owned by Yung Yeung-kwong, an apprentice of Forum Restaurant’s Yeung Koon-yat, who is known for the incomparable Ah Yat abalone dishes. Ah Yung Abalone still operates two outlets, one in Tsim Sha Tsui and another in Macau.

Abalone makes for a truly exquisite dish – along with shark’s fin and bird’s nest – that stockbrokers or real estate agents would order after making lots of money in the booming market to celebrate their good fortune.

Many people like to remember the 1980s as the golden era of making tons of money in Hong Kong. That’s when businessmen could afford to have abalone and shark’s fin for lunch or dinner everyday.

Business is not so bad these days. Real estate prices are soaring, while the stock market remains strong. But I don’t see many people ordering abalone dishes any more.

Two reasons. First, abalone is getting very expensive. A braised Yoshihama/Oma dried abalone with 30 heads (a small one) costs about HK$680 per piece, while a braised Amidori dried abalone with five heads (a pretty big one) will set you back about HK$13,800 per piece.

With wine and other delicacies, the dinner bill could easily reach six digits. That could put you in high esteem, especially among mainlanders, but to be sure there are a lot of better and healthier alternatives at that price range.

There are fewer rich mainlanders coming to Hong Kong over the past couple of years, and this could be one reason why some abalone restaurants are closing shop. But the truth is, many mainlanders are getting a bit tired of high-end eateries and prefer going to hotels and other interesting places instead.

Second, abalone is expensive because the rent for places that offer the dish continues to escalate. In other words, the biggest profit from abalone goes to the landlord, not to the restaurant owner.

Abalone restaurants are often spacious outlets targeting wealthy people. Forum Restaurant’s Yeung Koon-yat estimates the monthly revenue of a top-end abalone restaurant could reach HK$5 million, but the rent for the place could easily approach HK$1 million a month.

Add to that the expensive food costs and the difficulty of retaining staff, and one will understand why the abalone restaurant business is much less attractive than before.

The entire Chinese restaurant business may have reached its peak. During their heyday, many Chinese restaurant operators were able to list on the stock market: Chinese Food and Beverage Group (8102), which owns the famous Fook Lam Moon, Li Bao Ge (8102), U Banquet (1483), etc.

But many of these restaurants are now struggling to maintain their profitability, and their years of robust growth are but a distant memory.

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EJ Insight writer