For 77 years, since 1938 when it was a lowly dai pai dong – a sidewalk food stall in Hong Kong’s Tsuen Wan district — Yung Kee Restaurant’s roast goose has been one of the territory’s most famous dishes – and the restaurant one of its most renowned assets. Yung Kee, populated with ill-tempered and venerable waiters, was long ago transplanted to the central business district’s Wellington Street and to serve thousands, tourists and locals alike.
Yung Kee has traditionally been favored by bankers and masters of the universe who want to give their overseas clients a taste of what is supposed to be the real Hong Kong, within a short walking distance of the towering high rises where money moves with the swiftness of light. With its coveted Michelin star, it is one of the relatively few traditional restaurants able to survive given the astronomical land prices in Central. As long ago as 1968, Fortune Magazine included Yung Kee in its list of the world’s top 15 restaurants.
Family Squabble Closes Restaurant
But today Yung Kee has become another kind of traditional Chinese story. The star is gone. The once-fabled restaurant may close, forced to do so by squabbling between the sons who inherited it from their father and founder, Kam Shui Fai. On Dec. 16, the Court of Final Appeal confirmed the liquidation of Yung Kee Holdings Ltd. Previously the family had been given 28 days to reach agreement over the sale.
The Kam brothers are hardly alone. Such family succession feuds have wrecked relationships all the way to the top with the property behemoth Sun Hung Kai, Thomas and Raymond Kwok wresting control from their elder brother Walter – and Raymond ending up in prison on graft charges when unknown individuals went to the police over a bribery matter. Although Walter has denied doing so, the matter has splintered the family.
Likewise, the family of Macau gambling magnate Stanley Ho has staged a bitter battle for control of the assets. Or they can descend down to a 2010 incident in Hunan in which a man showed up at his cousin’s home for Lunar New Year dinner with explosives strapped to his body. He killed himself and four others as well as his cousin and his cousin’s parent over a family land dispute.
Kam Shui Fai’s hope had been to provide his sons with everything, granting them the opportunity to prosper the business instead of starting from zero as he had done. Nonetheless, the iconic restaurant has ruined family peace, divided it into two camps and stirred hostility between the sons of the founder. Now the closing down of the restaurant seems just a matter of time.
Yung Kee Holdings Ltd owned the restaurant. When Kam Shui Fai died in 2004, the shares and assets of the company were designed to be divided among his children. Kinsen Kam Kwan-sing, the eldest, and Ronald Kam Kwan-lai together owned 90 percent of the shares – 45 percent for each – with daughter Kam Mei-ling holding 10 percent. Equal controlling shares is obviously poison. Ronald subsequently bought her 10 percent.
Brothers Fall Out on Who Runs Restaurant
With his brother holding the controlling share, Kinsen Kam complained that Ronald restricted his right to manage the company. The dispute intensified after Ronald Kam appointed his son, Kam Lin-wang, a director at HK$45,000/month. Eventually, in mid-2010, as antagonism intensified, Kinsen Kam filed suit for the liquidation of the holding company if the younger brother refused to buy out his stake. Then, in 2012, Kinsen Kam died. The family accused Ronald of Kinsen’s death.
The patriarch had even bought apartments in the same building for each son. The feud grew to the point where the brother-neighbors reportedly refused to even say hello to each other in the lift.