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City Weekend

Huge rent increase forces Hong Kong steakhouse to close after 48 years in business

Daughter of Sammy’s Kitchen founder says rent more than doubled but hopeful about finding a new space to continue her father’s legacy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 August, 2017, 11:31am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 August, 2017, 1:13pm

Sammy’s Kitchen, one of the oldest Hong Kong-style steakhouses in the city, will pull down the shutters for the last time on September 15 – the latest victim of soaring rent.

Sammy Yip, founder of the 48-year-old restaurant in Sai Ying Pun, and his daughter Ivy Yip Fung-yee, the steakhouse’s manager, thought the eatery was given a new lease of life when a new landlord came on board in June and did not expect it to close.

According to the younger Yip, the new landlord was a fan of Sammy’s Kitchen, located on Queen’s Road West. “He said he wanted to take over the space because he loved Sammy’s Kitchen. It was where he and his wife first met,” she said.

“But now we are closing down because [he is more than doubling the rent]. This is very confusing.”

Sammy’s Kitchen was started by Sammy Yip, a former hotel chef known as Uncle Sammy, and three other friends in 1969. Yip, now 86, began cooking at the age of 12.

The restaurant is well-known for its “Sammy sauce”, which is made using mainly soy sauce mixed with bacon, tomatoes, garlic, onion, black pepper and other secret ingredients.

The steakhouse was originally located in Centre Street before moving to its current location. It has served many top government officials and public figures, including the late Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s former prime minister.

Ivy Yip said the monthly rent would be raised to HK$150,000 from the current HK$73,000. The new rent means an increase of at least 50 per cent in food prices, which she said would definitely drive customers away.

She tried to convince the landlord to lower the rent to HK$100,000 but he refused.

Her father also did not want to let go of any employees, so “there was no way for them to pay such a high rent [after accounting for employee salaries]”, she said.

Sammy’s Kitchen made headlines in 2015 when its iconic Angus cattle neon sign was removed, as the Building Department had considered it an illegal structure. The sign is now kept by the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority for culture museum M+.

Iconic neon cow sign in Hong Kong removed, set for new museum

“It is my father’s wish to make a new cattle neon sign that is up to the authority’s standards, and shine in the district again. But it’s impossible now,” Ivy Yip lamented.

The younger Yip, now 55, said she has lots of unforgettable childhood memories at the steakhouse. She recalled one particular customer in the 1990s, who was a frequent patron at the restaurant, who managed to devoura spring chicken in just three minutes.

“She was a foreigner living in Hong Kong before the 1997 handover. She would order only a spring chicken every time she came. I remember she came in for the same dish on her last day in Hong Kong.

She always managed to finish eating it in just three minutes but in a very elegant way, with a knife and a fork,” she recalled.

As she hunts for a new space to carry on her father’s legacy, one of the waiters, Chan Pong, said he was confident that Sammy’s Kitchen would continue to serve customers elsewhere, and that he would be able to reunite with his co-workers soon.

Ivy Yip said: “We are not businessmen but just food providers. We don’t know how to play with numbers.

“But I don’t want to give up and throw away my father’s legacy.”