A restaurant run by some 50 elderly people that is facing closure has been contacted by several other parties offering a new venue for the popular eatery.

The Gingko House restaurant was notified by the Jao Tsung-I Academy – which hosts it – that its tenancy will end in October and will be transferred to the food and beverage giant Epicurean Management. The news sparked concerns over the job status of the elderly people it employs.

Located in Lai Chi Kok, the restaurant was one of the four branches of the non-profit under the same name. It aims to support the employment of elderly citizens. Following the news, the son of the owner of the Gale Well Group offered the restaurant a 4,500 square feet space in Wan Chai.

Gingko house
Photo: Facebook.

Jacinto Tong Man-leung, CEO of the group, suggested the space could be rented out to the restaurant at a 30 per cent discount on the market price.

Surge in customers and orders

The staff at the restaurant thanked the public for their support, as CEO Joyce Mak said two to three other restaurants were willing to hire some of the elderly staff members.

“There were three to four property owners who contacted us to provide shop space for us to run, including areas such as Wan Chai and Mong Kok -we will look into the possibility of moving,” Mak told Apple Daily.

Mak also said that the restaurant received more customers and orders on Wednesday after the news broke.

Gingko House
Photo: Facebook.

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

Epicurean Management, the new operator, runs several big name restaurants such as Jimmy’s Kitchen and the Peak Lookout.

Mak had accused the Jao Tsung-I Academy of using the restaurant to bring in business in the early days – when the academy was not receiving large numbers of visitors – and then breaking a verbal promise of a decade-long lease.

Jao Tsung-I academy
Scholar Jao Tsung-I and officials taking part in the tree planting ceremony at the academy. Photo: GovHK.

The academy said in a statement that the lease obtained by the Hong Kong Institute for Promotion of Chinese Culture – which runs the academy – came from the government’s Development Bureau. It lasted for five years from 2011. They say that it would not have had the power to verbally promise a ten-year lease.

It said that the tendering process was fair and it was regretful that it cannot continue partnering with Gingko House.

The academy added that the new operator was very experienced in running restaurants in heritage buildings, and that it has promised to prioritise hiring the elderly staff of Gingko House.

In response, Mak said she has not refused the offer from the academy, but she would discuss with the elderly staff members as to whether they would like to work under the new operator.

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.