While expensive Michelin-starred restaurants in Hong Kong increase prices to fight rising rents and maintain profit, one humble restaurant in Sham Shui Po has been battling for seven years not to raise its prices so it can feed the poor and homeless.
Chan Cheuk Ming’s one-man mission to provide meals to low income diners is paying off as he plans to expand his Pei Ho Roasted Barbeque restaurant across Hong Kong and aims to open new cafes in Yuen Long, Kwun Tong and Tsuen Wan, with the first opening targeted within the next 12 months.
At Chan’s restaurant, which has not raised its food price for seven years, a set meal costs HK$15. Chan doesn’t want to follow inflation. “If I do so, the spending of the low-income group will also increase. Their population in Sham Shui Po is already expanding.”
For the past three years, Chan – also known as “Ming Gor” – Brother Ming – has regularly donated free meal boxes to more than 580 of Hong Kong’s poor and homeless per week. Every Saturday, Ming Gor, his employees and volunteers prepare hot meals at the restaurant and distribute them from Tung Chau Street. Some boxes are also delivered directly to the homes of the elderly who live alone.
“I totally understand that even a bowl of rice can be life-changing for poor people, it gives them a chance for a better future” said Ming Gor.
The 63-year-old restauranteur said he experienced poverty and hunger during his childhood in Guangdong when his parents struggled to care for him and his six siblings. Following his father’s death as a young teenager, he began work in the catering industry aged 17.
After smuggling into Hong Kong on a ship in the late 1970s, Ming Gor later worked at Pei Ho restaurant as a waiter. In 1997, he took over the café with a group of colleagues after the original owner retired. Since 2008, Chan and his team have worked with NGOs to offer free food vouchers, each can be redeemed for a HK$22 three-dish rice box at his restaurant.
Ming Gor said that in 2001, Hong Kong’s economic slowdown saw unemployment rise with the working class seriously affected. Since then, the restaurant transformed its business from mid-level diners to targeting low-income groups and began selling cheap meal boxes.
“We are able to talk to the needy people and provide extra support to their living.” Ming Gor and his volunteers have often gone beyond their restaurant duties, helping fix water boilers for the elderly and calling in doctors when needed.
Ken Foo, a volunteer at Pei Ho for the past two years, said “Ming Gor has dedicated himself to serving the poor. He is not just a teacher, but a man of great wisdom”.
In 2011, the introduction of Hong Kong’s minimum wage posed a threat to his business. It added HK$20,000 to the monthly expenditure. Rather than raise food prices, Chan and his partner reduced their own salaries to $5,000 monthly, just enough for them to survive. Just when everything looked grim, many kind-hearted Hong Kongers, having heard about his story, started dining at the cafe and sponsoring meal boxes.
As Ming Gor begins his plan to open more charitable restaurants in the coming years he aims to hire younger people who can help him run similar businesses. “I’m looking for someone who is healthy, kind-hearted and hard-working. As well as helping us, it also provides employment for the young”, he said.