SCMP Friday, March 9, 2001


Peak Cafe to shut after losing battle for lease

EXCLUSIVE by MARY ANN BENITEZ and VICTORIA BUTTON

One of the SAR's most popular restaurants - the Peak Cafe which is 11-1/2 years old - is to close by the end of June following a failed bid to renew the lease on the 1,000-square-metre site.
The Peak Cafe's general manager, Martin Allies, yesterday expressed disappointment and accused the Government of putting profits first by rejecting the tenant's bid.
But Epicurean Management, the new operator, who put in the highest bid through its subsidiary, Modern China International Ltd, promised that a new restaurant would retain the site's historic character when it opens later this year.
"The site was rather attractive in terms of its historic nature. We will do our utmost to take care of this historic site," said Grant Baird, the Epicurean group's director of operations.
Mr Allies said he was sad the Government had awarded the lease to another company for commercial reasons.
"To make the Peak Cafe what it is today has been a labour of love and taken determination, vision and considerable investment on our part. I believe we have been successful in creating a truly memorable place which has won over the hearts of local residents and visitors alike," he said.
The future of the Peak Cafe's 88 staff is still unclear.
Built as an engineering workshop for the Peak Tram in the 1880s, the property became a cafe in 1947.
Under the Peak Cafe's management, the original building was restored in 1989 and the garden expanded eight years later.
The director of the Government Property Agency, Albert Lai Kwok-ying, said Modern China won against four other bidders, including sitting tenant Freedragon Limited.
The General Tender Board reached the decision last month after tenders closed on January 19. The decision for the five-year lease, beginning in July, will be published at the end of the month.
Mr Lai admitted various representations from the Peak Cafe had been made to the Government to reopen negotiations.
"I have explained that the exercise was conducted in an open and fair manner. Rules were set out and everybody participating in this exercise knew what the rules were. The sitting tenant did not submit the best bid."
The present lease for the site is about $8 million a year, said Elaine Ho Wing-yin, senior executive officer of the Government Property Agency.
Mr Baird said it was the first time his group, which runs 15 food and beverage outlets across the SAR, had tendered for the Peak property. "One of our board of directors is associated with the restoration of historic buildings in Hong Kong. He particularly wanted the site," Mr Baird said.
Senior management for the new restaurant had been hired as well as "preservation architects", he said.
The assistant manager of public relations at the Hong Kong Tourist Association, Suzanne Dennis, said the Peak Cafe was a unique venue.
"It's one of the favoured locations on the Peak because of the atmosphere. It's very important all those properties are very well managed. I hope it continues in its present vein," Ms Dennis said.
Yesterday a tourist at the restaurant, Gabriele Wesler, of Cologne, Germany, said of the venue: "It's wonderful. The people are very friendly."
Mid-Levels resident Debbie Lovellcalle called the impending change in management "really sad" given the cafe's landmark status. "We don't want to see it change," she said, praising the food and the staff.