Doubled rent forces closure of 42-year-old Lei Yuen Congee Noodles

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 11:25am

Nearly a hundred people queued outside a 42-year-old congee and noodle shop in Causeway Bay yesterday to say goodbye on its second last day of business.

Lei Yuen Congee Noodles, behind the Sogo department store in Lockhart Road, has been forced to close after rent for the 1,000 sq ft shop was doubled to HK$600,000 a month.

Kwok Woon-wing, 51, the owner's youngest brother, said the business had picked up about 20 per cent since the media reported the shop's impending closure last week.

He was grateful for the public support, he said.

"It's sad … We've been working so hard, and it's been so long," said Kwok, who has worked at the shop for 30 years.

"But we have to accept it … We cannot lay all the blame on the developers; it's the demand and supply of the market."

The family has no plans yet to move to a new location.

Lei Yuen, known for its old-fashioned decor and appliances, was especially famous for its wonton noodles, pork liver congee and rice dumplings. The latter sold out well before lunch yesterday.

Australia-based businessman Philip Uy, 52, who has a home in Hong Kong and returns every few months, said he flew back earlier than planned when he heard Lei Yuen was closing.

"My home is nearby, and I always get a late-night meal here whenever I come back," he said.

"Lei Yuen's congee and rice dumplings are awesome. I want it to reopen in another place."

Uy added that he would give the shop owner a red packet.

Kwok said the shop had decided against prolonging its business hours - 11am to 2am - or offering special prices. "The price is already very low," he said. "We may even close earlier, after everything is sold out."

A bowl of wonton noodles cost HK$28, while a bowl of pork liver congee was HK$30.

One of the shop's suppliers said Lei Yuen's pork liver and pork kidney were unique.

"Needle-like tubes are used to pierce the capillary blood vessels to pump in water to cleanse [the organs]," he said. "They're very dainty and you can't find them elsewhere."

The 100 people queuing to get in at lunchtime yesterday had to wait for about an hour. The diners included frequent guests, first-time visitors and tourists.

Passers-by not in the know were curious about the long queue outside the shop.

Student Nick Chu Man-fai, 21, said he had been visiting the shop since he was a child.

"It's a pity," he said. "The shop is special and traditional; the food is of high quality, but not expensive for Causeway Bay."

He expected other time-honoured shops in the district to close down because of the soaring rent.