by Katie Tam and Zhen Soo | The Associated Press
HONG KONG – A historic floating restaurant serving Cantonese cuisine and seafood to Queen Elizabeth II, Tom Cruise and millions of other diners was brought in from Hong Kong port on Tuesday after being closed by the pandemic.
The parent company of Jumbo Floating Restaurant could not find a new owner and was short of funds to sustain it after months of COVID-19 restrictions.
The huge floating restaurant, designed like a Chinese imperial palace on Aberdeen Harbor, was known for its Cantonese cuisine and seafood dishes. It has received over 30 million guests since its inception in 1976.
But the Jumbo Floating restaurant was forced to close in 2020 due to the pandemic, and laid off all employees. Parent company Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises said this has become a financial burden for shareholders, as millions of Hong Kong dollars are spent each year on the inspection and maintenance of the floating restaurant, even though the restaurant was not in operation.
“We do not think that (Jumbo Floating Restaurant) can resume business in the immediate future,” the company said. It said high operating costs thwarted potential deals to keep the restaurant open.
Tugboats pulled the restaurant down on Tuesday, but it was unclear where it would be next. The company plans to move it to a low-cost site where maintenance can still be done.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has previously dismissed suggestions to bail out restaurants, despite calls from lawmakers to preserve the iconic landmark.
Lam said last month that the government had no plans to invest taxpayer money in restaurants because the government was not “good” at running such complexes, though lawmakers called for restaurants to be protected.
Some Hong Kong residents recall the heyday of the Jumbo Kingdom, and expressed their disappointment in visiting the restaurant. It was famous for its sumptuous banquet food, dishes such as roasted suckling pig, lobster and double-boiled bird’s nest, a Chinese delicacy.
Wong Chi-Wah, a boat operator in Aberdeen Harbor, said that in the glory days of jumbo floating restaurants in the 1990s, Japanese tourists flocked to the restaurant.
“The roads were full of parked vehicles as visitors came in large groups,” he said.
Encore Sin, 71, said Hong Kong is missing something unique.
“If the restaurant goes down today, there is certainly a sense of loss, not just for the people living around the area, but for Hong Kong as a whole,” Sin said.
“Over the past few decades, I’ve been to many places around the world to take pictures, but where else in the world are there such floating restaurants? I don’t think there are any left.”