One of Hong Kong's most famous restaurants, Au Trou Normand, will close next month, pressed out of business by rising costs. The restaurant's director, David Yick Hok-wing, said a rent reduction was requested but the landlord's offer of 7 per cent was insufficient to avoid closure. The Sars outbreak added to its woes. The eatery, offering the classic dishes of Normandy, has been a landmark in Tsim Sha Tsui for 39 years. It will close on May 8 when the lease expires. Founded by a former French paratrooper, Bernard Vigneau, in 1964, the 60-seat restaurant was a slice of Europe in Tsim Sha Tsui. It employs 25 people, several of whom have worked there for more than 30 years. Au Trou Normand management was told rent would remain at $122,000 a month, plus management fees, air conditioning charges, rates and other expenses. 'With the present level of business, we could not keep our doors open paying that sort of rent,' Mr Yick said. The premises is owned by Texwood, whose head office is in Kwun Tong. The company did not respond to questions. The impending closure follows calls by spokesmen for the tourism industries for rental restraint by landlords to help battered catering, travel agencies, retailers and other small businesses to keep their doors open in the face of the Sars crisis and war in Iraq. Last week Hong Kong Tourism Board chairman Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, who represented retailers, Howard Young, the Legislative Council member for the travel industry, and Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, the Legco member for the catering industry, held crisis meetings seeking relief for small businesses. Mr Cheung said yesterday the Au Trou Normand situation was similar to that facing thousands of restaurants. 'The rent being demanded is simply not realistic in the present circumstances, it's not a market rate,' he said. 'The current disaster will lead to more than 1,000 restaurants closing. We've got to find a solution. We're trying to persuade big landlords to cut rents to help operators through the crisis. 'The Housing Department, for instance, has agreed to cut rents by 70 per cent from now until June. I reckon it is reasonable in the short term to cut rents at least 30 per cent to 40 per cent.' The turnover of some Chinese restaurants has been halved in recent weeks. Mrs Chow said of the Au Trou Normand closure: 'What sad news. Can't they move somewhere else?' Three years ago the restaurant moved from its premises in Carnarvon Road to its present Granville Road address. But with many long-term expatriates leaving Hong Kong and the number of European visitors sagging, it was harder to keep Au Trou Normand profitable. 'The rent was the final straw,' Mr Yick said.