Hundreds of diners yesterday flocked to a 62-year-old cha chaan teng in Sheung Wan on its last day of business.
Ngau Kee Food Cafe, at 3 Gough Street between Sheung Wan and Central, was forced to close down after its landlord refused to lease the unit out for catering purposes.
"It's OK if you want me to go, but you can't say Ngau Kee isn't special, you can't say you won't lease the unit to a cha chaan teng any more," said restaurant owner Mak Ping-keung.
Mak, 60, took over Ngau Kee in 1996 as its fourth owner, when the eatery was still at Staunton Street. It moved to Gough Street in 2005 because of an urban redevelopment project.
The restaurant was a family-run business, with Mak's wife, three sons and a daughter helping out with different tasks.
Mak said he suspected the landlord wanted them to move so he could lease the space out to high-end boutiques for higher rent. The monthly rent for the 1,300 square feet unit was HK$49,000.
"It's a loss to the residents in the neighbourhoods if there are only money-making boutiques around but not any local restaurants - which are harder and harder to find in the Western and Central districts," he said.
Mak said the area around Gough Street used to have more popular local eateries, but many upmarket boutiques and houseware shops had moved in and displaced them in recent years.
Several popular eateries had been forced to move away from Central and other prime locations because of the city's skyrocketing property prices.
In February, Czarina Restaurant - a localised Russian eatery which served rich Borscht soup and good steak at Bonham Road in Mid-levels - closed down after serving the neighbourhood for half a century because the landlord decided to sell the unit when its price hit a record high.
In January, Lei Yuen Congee Noodles - known for its wonton noodles, pork liver congee and rice dumplings in Causeway Bay - closed down after the monthly rent doubled to HK$600,000.
Yesterday afternoon, Ngau Kee was swamped with visitors who came to bid their farewells and to enjoy the signature dishes of crispy minced meat cake and beef brisket in clear soup.
"We discovered this restaurant years ago when we were just passing by," said a five-year patron, Peter Law, who was at the eatery with his wife. "We love the food and have come regularly since then."
Mak said he was still looking for an appropriate unit in Sai Wan to reopen Ngau Kee. The eatery would begin serving the neighbourhood again as soon as he received a HK$3 million bank loan as a start-up fund, he said.