Japan's oldest Chinese restaurant is latest victim of Covid-19 pandemic, closes doors after 138 years

Heichinrou's main branch began bankruptcy proceedings at the request of creditors, with total debt likely exceeding 300 million yen. PHOTO: YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

YOKOHAMA (BLOOMBERG) - Heichinrou, an iconic Chinese restaurant in Japan founded 138 years ago, became the latest establishment to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic, filing for bankruptcy protection on Thursday (June 2).

The restaurant's main branch, an institution of Yokohama's famous Chinatown, began bankruptcy proceedings at the request of creditors with total debt likely exceeding 300 million yen (S$3.17 million), according to research firm Teikoku Databank.

Founded in 1884 and catering to foreigners who settled in the port city during the Meiji Restoration, it claimed the title of the oldest existing Chinese restaurant in Japan on its website.

The multi-storied flagship restaurant, just minutes from the main gates of Chinatown and famous for its authentic Cantonese cuisine, was a major draw to tourists from all over Japan and overseas alike.

Eating and drinking establishments have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic due to government calls to shorten opening hours, contributing to 536 failures in the industry, or about 15 per cent of the 3,468 bankruptcies nationwide tracked by Teikoku Databank.

Heichinrou's other branches in Tokyo, Osaka and Kitakyushu are operated by a separate company and will remain open.

The restaurant's sales reached 10.8 billion yen in the year through March 2007, but fell to 6.5 billion yen in the year ended March 2016 as high overhead costs and the economic downturn took a toll, said Teikoku Databank.

The decline in business from the coronavirus dealt the final blow, and the main branch closed on May 15.

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