An iconic restaurant can't escape sector woes

January 07, 2020 13:22
A file picture of the Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen. The iconic eatery has trimmed its workforce in a bid to cut costs amid a business downturn. Photo: HKEJ

An iconic Hong Kong restaurant has cut its staff by half as it attempts to stay afloat amid reduced business, joining the list of entities that have been hit hard by the months-long social unrest.

The Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen gave the pink slips to 60 workers, according to the Hong Kong Economic Journal, in further grim news on the city's catering, retail and tourism-related sectors. 

The retrenchment came along with a rare suspension of service of the 2,000-seat restaurant last Thursday and Friday, disappointing many fans of the renowned eatery and tourist attraction.

The multi-story restaurant decorated in Chinese imperial style, which always figured on the must-visit list among Lonely Planet followers, saw a sharp fall in business last year due to a slide in foreign tourist arrivals as well as diminished patronage by locals due to the poor social situation.

Given the weak consumption environment, many restaurants are taking a fresh look at their operations and forced to make some adjustments to keep their head above water.

As for Jumbo, it will now operate between 11:30 am and 2 pm and from 6 pm to 10 pm on six days a week, instead of the usual 11-11 schedule, 7-days a week that it maintained for 40 years.

Four months ago, Jumbo's parent Melco Development failed to privatize Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprise, which controlled 88 percent of Jumbo Floating Restaurant and its sister floating palace Tai Pak, as it didn't manage to secure the approval of 75 percent of the remaining stakeholders.

At that time, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprise, which also runs a range of other entertainment and shopping businesses around the restaurant, was revealed to have made HK$23 million in profit on turnover of HK$82 million.

That is apparently not a big number from the perspective of Melco boss Lawrence Ho, who is the son of Macau tycoon Stanley Ho, but the establishment meant a lot for many Hong Kong people.

In the old days, dining at the middle of the sea was a luxury in Hong Kong. The seafood vessels in the shelter harbor in Aberdeen, Jordan and other places have become a collective memory for many Hong Kong people.

Herbal tea distributor Wong Lo Kat was first with the idea to build a jumbo kingdom in Aberdeen and finished his Jumbo Seafood in 1971. However, a four-alarm fire left 34 dead and 42 injured in an accident.

Wong had no mood to rebuild until Stanley Ho stood up four years later and refurnished the ancient Chinese imperial palace project for HK$30 million.

It has been a popular tourist destination since, with many celebrities, including royalty and movie stars, among its clientele over the years.

Hongkongers will be able to recall four-hour brunch sessions, with champagne flowing, at the floating palace on lazy Sunday mornings.

Well, the eatery is still there, but one wonders whether its best days are behind it.

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EJ Insight writer