Lek Yuen estate's dai pai dong survives against the odds

Family's recipe of hard work and a pinch of creativity keeps struggling dai pai dong alive

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 4:30am

It was all or nothing for food seller Cheung Man-keung in 2008.

After The Link Reit took over retail space in public housing estates, Cheung, 52, was given a choice: take all six stalls in the dai pai dong at Lek Yuen estate in Sha Tin where his family had sold beef brisket noodles for more than 50 years - or get out.

He took the lot, and the business survived, although he admits it gets harder by the year.

"We were very lucky and blessed that so many people helped us and saw the value in what we have," he said.

Initially, Cheung said, he had three choices: retire, move to a faraway location, or wait and see if he could afford the rent after The Link redeveloped the area. None of them appealed.

In the end, he was allowed to continue his business - but only if he took all the stall spaces.

The rent for the six stalls was about HK$30,000 a month, and would rise to HK$40,000 in March under a new contract, Cheung said. This was cheap compared with similar spaces in the same district, he added.

It took a lot of hard work, creativity and ingenuity for the dai pai dong to survive, he said.

Business is especially hard in the summer, as the semi-open space has no air-conditioner and is buried in a hard-to-find location in the housing estate.

In late 2009, Cheung started serving dinners at the stall, making hotpot with a home-made soup base and fresh ingredients.

During the Chinese holiday season, he also sells poon choi - the traditional Hong Kong "big bowl feast".

Four of six siblings in the family are involved in the business.

With their limited resources and creativity, they decorated the area in a unique way, using car tyres to hold light figures and building shelves from old ladders.

There is a bottle-cap picture, lively wall paintings and other quirky handmade ornaments scattered around.

Magazines and books are provided and they hold a regular karaoke night. Cheung said he wanted to turn the space into a "community living place".

He also gives out free noodles and sometimes free hotpot meals to needy elderly on the 16th day of each month according to the lunar calendar.

"[It] is the day of the full moon, of completeness," Cheung said. "I just want to do my part for the community."