A restaurant run by some 50 elderly people will be forced to close in October as the owner of the space is set to hand it over to a giant restaurant chain.

Gingko House restaurant is run by an NGO with the same name – it aims to support senior employment. The eatery was located at the Jao Tsung-I Academy in Lai Chi Kok, also a non-profit. It was the first and only restaurant at the academy when it was founded in 2013.

It said on its Facebook page that few people visited the academy at first, and the restaurant had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep it running. “We know cultivating virgin land was ‘miserable’, but we fought on because we want to support elderly employment and ‘non-profits helping non-profits’.”

Gingko House
Photo: Facebook.

It said after two years of hard work the restaurant attracted many customers every night from different backgrounds. But the Hong Kong Institute for Promotion of Chinese Culture, which runs the academy, notified the restaurant of the change in tenancy in October.

Joyce Mak, CEO of the restaurant, told Ming Pao that she felt she had been used, as the institute was sincere in inviting the restaurant into the academy, and verbally promised a lease could be granted of different periods up to ten years.

She added that elderly people needed a longer time to adapt to a work environment, and the restaurant could now survive as business was increasing.

Not a ‘social enterprise’

In response, the academy’s deputy manager Ko Hoi-ying told the newspaper that the new restaurant was not a social enterprise, though the contract stipulated that it should hire elderly people and ethnic minorities.

She said the decision was made after considering different tenders, adding that it was not fair for Mak to say that they were being used.

Gingko House
Photo: Facebook.

However, Mak insisted the academy was only looking at profit. She questioned the conditions for the new restaurant: “Weren’t [the elderly people of] Gingko House a group of minorities?”

The news was widely shared on social media, with customers pledged to help find a new location for the initiative.

The Jao Tsung-I Academy was formerly the Lai Chi Kok Hospital, a listed heritage site. The operator of the revitalised project must be a non-profit organisation, though partnering organisations with the operator do not have to be social enterprises.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.