When Japanese green tea purveyor Nakamura Tokichi landed in Hong Kong in 2015, the local property market was down following the Occupy protest movement a few months back.
It was an auspicious start as it meant paying less for rentals. And the initial reception was ridiculously strong with local foodies willing to wait in line for more than an hour for the dining experience offered by an authentic Kyoto teahouse.
Soon after opening its first outlet at The One in Tsim Sha Tsui, Nakamura Tokichi expanded to several other major shopping malls such as Pacific Place, Mira, APM and New Town Plaza. At the peak of its business, it had eight shops across the city.
In fact, because of the locals’ fascination with Japanese food and culture, many retailers from the Land of the Rising Sun have chosen to expand here. There’s Japanese restaurant group Toridoll, which snapped up Mixian noodle shops Tam Chai and Tam Chai Sam Gor for around HK$1 billion each.
But four years later, amid the ongoing social unrest, Nakamura Tokichi has decided to close down its Hong Kong business, even as the property market is once again on the decline.
The last of its two outlets closed two weeks ago, with a few fans lamenting on social media how much they would miss its signature matcha and egg rolls – and, of course, the ambiance of a prestigious teahouse with more than a hundred years of history.
What’s sad is that many retailers in the city are also planning to either drastically reduce their manpower or close shop altogether in view of the months-long protests that have wreaked havoc on their business.
And this is happening just before Christmas, the festive season when people would fancy a cup of matcha after shopping for gifts for loved ones and friends.
Even before the political turmoil, Nakamura Tokichi had been struggling to maintain its operations here because of soaring rents. The protests that started in June proved the last straw.
It’s unfortunate that just after it decided to leave Hong Kong, many landlords started cutting rents by 15 to 40 percent to entice tenants to stay on amid the tough times.
But for shops that want to take advantage of the downturn for expansion, perhaps the sad experience of the Japanese teahouse should serve as a warning.
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