Health & Environment

The Michelin Kiss of Death?

 

by Tiffany Lui

Not all Michelin-awarded restaurants in Hong Kong this year are rejoicing in the hope that the accolade might bring business. Some face the pressure of rising rent which may lead to closure. This phenomenon was coined by the media as the "Michelin's Kiss of Death".

The Michelin Guide has been an index for excellent restaurants and food stalls since the 1900s.
The 2016 edition of the Hong Kong and Macau Michelin Guide awarded 58 local restaurants and recommended 23 roadside food stalls. Since then at least two of those food stalls have been told by their landlords that their rents would go up immediately.

Among them, Chiu Wing-yip, the owner of Kai Kai Dessert.
"After we got the stars, the landlord increased our rent in the new contract by 120 per cent. That means we need to sell 5000 more bowls of sweet soups to cover the cost and I don't think we can make it!" Mr Chiu said.

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He said that the rising rent is definitely linked to Michelin but he is still happy to get the compliment.
"We are very grateful to see people enjoying our food and Michelin has put a halo around our products."

Mr Fu, a customer, goes to Kai Kai Dessert every week. He was shocked when he learned that the rent shot up. "I guess an increase of 15 or 20 per cent would be acceptable. But isn't 120 per cent a bit too much? No shop can afford this!"

He is also concerned about the diminishing choice of local small food stalls. "I really don't know what to eat when all the shops near my home are McDonald's, Café De Coral and Maxims. I miss the fish balls and Cha Chaan Teng we used to have in Hong Kong."

Although the Michelin star appears to have brought more harm than good to some restaurants, Suen Kei, the owner of a Michelin-awarded food stall, Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Chinese Buns Snack Shop, didn't think Michelin was responsible.

"Neither the landlords nor the Michelin stars are to blame for the rent increase, but the government," Mr Suen said.

"Before 1997, there was rent control in Hong Kong and it was easier for small enterprises to survive. Now, the market is monopolized and we can see restaurants owned by big companies every five minutes down the road everywhere.

The government has done nothing to help us," he said. One of the Michelin-recommended branches of Cheung Hing Kee suffered the same fate as Kai Kai Dessert and was forced to close down. Suen said the rent of Cheung Hing Kee in Tsuen Wan went up by 60 per cent and they can hardly afford to pay.

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He is also concerned about the diminishing choice of local small food stalls. "I really don't know what to eat when all the shops near my home are McDonald's, Café De Coral and Maxims. I miss the fish balls and Cha Chaan Teng we used to have in Hong Kong."

Although the Michelin star appears to have brought more harm than good to some restaurants, Suen Kei, the owner of a Michelin-awarded food stall, Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Chinese Buns Snack Shop, didn't think Michelin was responsible.

"Neither the landlords nor the Michelin stars are to blame for the rent increase, but the government," Mr Suen said. "Before 1997, there was rent control in Hong Kong and it was easier for small enterprises to survive. Now, the market is monopolized and we can see restaurants owned by big companies every five minutes down the road everywhere.

The government has done nothing to help us," he said. One of the Michelin-recommended branches of Cheung Hing Kee suffered the same fate as Kai Kai Dessert and was forced to close down. Suen said the rent of Cheung Hing Kee in Tsuen Wan went up by 60 per cent and they can hardly afford to pay.

Kai Kai Dessert though is less fortunate. The owners have yet to find a new place in the neighbourhood they can afford. People waited in line late into the night on December 27, the last day of opening of the Tsuen Wan branch, just to savour the Chinese buns once more.

Mr Chiu said the future of small enterprises would not be affected despite rampant monopolies in Hong Kong, because each business has different target customers.

Mr Suen said the the government's inability to put a lid on rent is the ultimate cause of their increases. He believed high rent is killing small businesses.The dwindling number of local and traditional food stalls, he added, is a threat to local culture.

He further expressed that there are not much choices in Hong Kong and questioned who could bear the high rent to open his or her own business. He also said that the market situation is killing the small businesses and causing the decrease in number of local and traditional food and that can probably threaten local culture.

(Edited by Catherine Xu)

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