Dishing up generous servings for the needy

After struggling through tough times, Sham Shui Po restaurateur is on a mission to provide hot meals for children and the homeless

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 May, 2013, 8:45am

At a time when many restaurants are trying to cut costs to cope with soaring rents and higher wages, one cha chaan teng in Sham Shui Po is doing exactly the opposite - providing meals for the needy.

Cat Tso Tak-suet's local-style restaurant prepares dinners for children in after-school care and for the homeless. Some meals are sold at basic cost, others she provides for free. Every school day, they prepare hot food for about 100 meal boxes, which are then delivered to after-school care centres in the neighbourhood.

"People have helped me in the past through difficult times. Now that I've settled down and my children are independent I have time to care for the community," said the 61-year-old, who is also vice-president of the Street Sleepers Action Committee.

Tso worked in garment manufacturing for many years. She used to sell clothes on the street to make ends meet. She was helped by others who gave her the use of their shop space.

Since her husband opened a restaurant in the late 1990s, the couple have occasionally given away meals. Tso opened her own restaurant a few years later and set up a partnership with the childcare centres in her neighbourhood two years ago.

"The biggest pressure is staffing. The restaurant is already busy serving afternoon tea, but our chefs also have to get the meal boxes ready at that time," she said. "I really want to thank my staff. They don't have to do it really, they're only responsible for the restaurant meals."

Tso said it can get frantic in the kitchen, and there have been times when tempers have frayed due to the workload. "I buy treats to calm them down. Most of them support this service."

The extra meals cost the restaurant about HK$8,000 a month, she said. "I haven't really calculated it seriously. It's alright as long as there is enough money to pay the staff," she said.

Tso provides some of the meals for free, saying that way the centres have more resources to put into tutors for the children.

The mother of three has three grandchildren, the oldest one aged 16. "My family supports me, but they worry about me being overworked," she said.

Sometimes she visits homeless people at an area outside the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, chatting with them "like a friend or a parent". "Sometimes they come back after a few months and tell us they've found a job. It's great when that happens," she said. Tso's restaurant Ki Lung was recognised last year by the Social Welfare Department as being an outstanding community caring shop. Nominations for this year's awards close on Friday.