Hong Kong’s first French steakhouse closing after 23 years, and owner blames Occupy protests in part for decision
W’s Entrecote never got over the impact of 11-week sit-in that shut prime street near its Causeway Bay location, says owner, who also cites rising rents and competition as reasons for pending closure
A French restaurant that’s operated in Causeway Bay for 23 years will close in two months’ time, with its owner saying business never recovered from the impact of the Occupy protests.
The 2014 sit-in, which blocked prime thoroughfare Yee Wo Street in Causeway Bay for 11 weeks, is one of a number of factors behind the closure of steakhouse W’s Entrecote, including a squeeze on profits and rising competition for customers, Wilson Kwok said on Tuesday.
“The last three years have been tough. It’s not just a matter of how much the landlord is increasing the rent, but the Occupy protests impacted us and business never really picked up again,” he said.
“We make a small profit margin for what we do. When I started in Times Square I was desperate for a space [so I signed the lease]. Then 10 years later it went up HK$20 more per square foot. I worked so hard for the money, but in the end what do I get?”
For the past decade the restaurant has been in the Holiday Inn Express across the street from Times Square. Kwok said he scouted premises to which to move the restaurant a second time, but they were either too expensive or poorly situated.
“We needed enough space to make bread because we make it from scratch as well as the fries, but in the end it didn’t work out … maybe customers don’t appreciate these details,” he said.
W’s Entrecote opened in Times Square in 1993, and was the first restaurant in Hong Kong to serve classic French steak frites.
“There was a group of people who had been to an entrecote in Paris and they understood it immediately,” recalls Kwok, who also speaks fluent French. “I think we helped ease people’s minds because all they had to do was choose the size of the steak.”
The restaurant, known for its red-and-white checked tablecloths, rib-eye steak and cow memorabilia, will go back to its original menu from March 1 to bring back some memories for regular patrons. The menu includes a salad with walnuts and vinaigrette, and all-you-can-eat fries.
For Kwok, the restaurant business is a tough one from which to make a decent profit, due to rising rents and labour costs. “Our lunch set isn’t competitive enough. Our average check is HK$200, but downstairs you can get wonton noodles for HK$40; you can get Korean and Japanese set lunches for about HK$100.
Kwok moved the restaurant to its current location after the first few years in the mall, but seven or eight years ago the building was sold to another landlord, who, Kwok says, further jacked up his rent.
He managed to keep the business afloat by supplying breakfast to the hotel’s guests, but says the business is not sustainable in the long term.