Fook Lam Moon reaches out beyond the tycoons

After years of serving pricey Cantonese food to the rich, Fook Lam Moon aims to broaden its reach as conspicuous consumption goes out of fashion

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 11:08am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 July, 2014, 1:18am

News-hungry reporters and paparazzi have long lurked at its door to prey on the city's who's who. But Cantonese restaurant Fook Lam Moon, which literally translates as "good fortune arriving at your door", is now looking beyond the jet set.

Henderson Land Development chairman Lee Shau-kee is among the restaurant's regular patrons. Others include Bank of East Asia chairman David Li Kwok-po and Chinese Estates controlling shareholder Joseph Lau Luen-hung, as well as a host of politicians and celebrities.

We have seen fewer customers willing to throw lavish business dinners

There is a reason for the exclusivity of Fook Lam Moon's clientele - its prices. A set dinner can cost up to HK$29,800 for 12 people.

The most expensive banquet the restaurant has ever hosted was for 120 people; the bill came to more than HK$1 million.

Duncan Chui Tak-keung, the third-generation scion now in charge of the restaurant's new business development, wants to change all that.

"We want to open our doors to everyone who loves good food. We serve banquets costing tens of thousands of dollars, but we also serve delicious dim sum lunches for a few hundred dollars for tourists and locals," Chui told the South China Morning Post in an interview at the plush restaurant on Johnston Road in Wan Chai.

Chui and his sister Janet Chui Shuk-wah, who is in charge of marketing, are now working with their father Chui Pui-kun, or "Brother Five", to take the business to the next level.

"We have our family dinner every Sunday. But these days it's more like a working dinner, as we invariably end up discussing the plans for the restaurant," Janet Chui said. "Our father takes the lead in planning, while my brother and I handle the execution."

The group operates three restaurants - a Fook Lam Moon in Wan Chai and another in Tsim Sha Tsui, and a restaurant called Guo Fu Lou in Wan Chai.

One of the reasons the new generation wants to broaden the brand's reach is its overreliance on conspicuous dining, which is closely related to the economic cycle.

"Fook Lam Moon's performance has always been tied to the wider macroeconomic conditions and movements in the Hang Seng Index. In the past two years, we have seen fewer customers willing to throw lavish business dinners, which were pretty routine in 2010 and 2011," Duncan Chui said.

Mainland businessmen, in particular, would regularly splurge on extravagant meals, ordering from the deluxe menu at over HK$10,000 per person and spending more than HK$500,000 in one evening treating friends or business partners. But with Beijing cracking down on corruption, they seem to be far less inclined to splash out in public these days.

To make up for the shortfall, the restaurant has designed a menu with wine pairings and also launched new products, such as mooncakes.

"We would also like to expand overseas, such as in Macau and Taiwan, and may expand our corporate dining as well as home banquet catering services, which would be like going back to our roots," Duncan Chui said.

The group was founded by Chui Fook-chuen in 1948 as a catering service for lavish home banquets thrown by the super- rich.

As dining out caught on, the group opened its first restaurant in 1972 and bought the Johnston Road property in 1979.

In their two-hour interview with the Post, Duncan and Janet were relaxed, basking in the success of one of the city's top culinary addresses.

Looking at them, it is hard to imagine that a year-and-a-half ago the group was struggling for survival in a battle between two brothers for its control.

Chui Pui-kun, the fifth son of Chui Fook-chuen, was fighting in the courts with Chui Wai-kwan, or "Brother Seven", the founder' s seventh son. Each surviving brother owned a 45 per cent stake, with the remaining 10 per cent held by their sisters.

During the two-year legal battle, the staff, chef and even customers felt the heat of the fratricidal strife. Customers close to different brothers would be separated on different floors, and the quality of food and service took a hit, as the staff were taking orders from two bosses.

The brothers reached an out-of-court settlement in December 2012, under which Brother Five bought out the equity interest from the younger brother, who went on to open his own restaurant under the name Seventh Son Restaurant in Wan Chai.

"The staff now have a stronger bonding to the restaurant. as they have a single leadership. The better team spirit has resulted in better food and service, and the customers who had left us have returned," Duncan Chui said.

"We are determined to carry on our good name. We often get customers who make bookings overseas before coming to Hong Kong as they want to try us for traditional Chinese fine dining.

"Carrying on a 66-year-old tradition is both an honour and an enormous responsibility."