Tee Club makes way for T-shirts after 25 years

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am


In business, it is a well-established fact that the big guy generally wins. And the story is playing out the same old way at the Pedder Building in Central.

The 25-year-old China Tee Club is being ousted by the trendy clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch.

The members-only private restaurant that has occupied about 3,000 sq ft on the first floor of the Pedder Building since 1986, will have to leave the building in September.

The casual wear company is taking over the four floors from the basement to the second floor and is reportedly paying HK$7.5 million a month for the space.

Apart from the China Tee Club, the landmark city site also houses flagship stores for home-grown luxury brands Shanghai Tang and Blanc de Chine plus 16 other clothing, tailoring and jewellery businesses that must give way to the American chain.

'We were informed in April we had to go,' said club manager Simon Dickens. 'The owners are exploring all options to see what we can do.'

Owned by Henry Fok Estates, the Pedder Building was built in 1932 and there are proposals to upgrade its heritage status from grade II to grade I. The company's managing director Ian Fok Chun-wan did not respond to calls for comments, but has been quoted as saying it was getting harder for owners to conserve heritage buildings because of tight regulations and a lack of incentives or benefits.

Dickens said moving the restaurant to another heritage building would be ideal, but these sites were hard to find and expensive and it would be difficult for the club to stay in Central. 'I don't know what will happen if no suitable site can be found,' he said.

The club was founded by former Miss Hong Kong Loletta Chu and her two sisters Eveline and Josline, as well as two other owners.

'It was a hobby business as opposed to anything commercial,' Dickens said. 'It started off as much more of a ladies' afternoon tea place, but later on - especially over the past eight years - we have seen more bankers and businessmen.'

Long-serving member of staff Queendy Lee, who joined the club in 1987, said she had welcomed customers ranging from top government officials, such as former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, to A-list stars, such as Andy Lau Tak-wah and the late Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing.

'It's sad to see it go. But there's nothing we can do because this is a highly commercial society,' Lee said.

The club, which now has 3,000 members, features Chinese-Malaysian decor with a vintage touch. Most of its furniture was made in Singapore and some of the chairs, booths, sideboards and decorative items, including bird cages, antique medicine bottles, posters and tiles, have been with the club since day one.

'The theme of the restaurant matches the age of the building, like Shanghai Tang suits the age of the building,' Dickens said. 'Central is now dominated by international brands and big businesses. It is hard for local companies to survive.

'Our members are very upset because they have an emotional connection with the club.'

Among those unhappy members was Colin Lai, who has been visiting the club since he was eight or nine years old back in the 1980s.

'I'm sad and angry that it's turning into another clothing store which could go anywhere in Hong Kong,' said Lai, a legal counsel with a finance firm. 'This is the problem. Anything that has historical value has to go to make way for commercial stuff. How is that enhancing competition and consumer choices?'