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Old February 14th, 2011, 04:21 PM   #1
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Kung Lee Sugar Cane Juice (公利真料竹蔗水)

Sale threat to juice shop's 63-year sugar cane reign
9 February 2011
South China Morning Post

A shop in Central that has been selling sugar-cane juice for 63 years is facing closure as the historic building that houses it is to be sold for HK$100 million.

The building will be preserved, but rent for the shop is expected to shoot up once the deal is closed.

The Tsui family, who have been running the shop, fears its days are numbered as they will not be able to afford a steep rent rise.

Tsui Chi-san, who took charge of the family business 20 years ago, helped by his wife and two sons, said: "Recently, estate agents kept coming and asking us about the sale of the building. We have no idea and the landlord won't tell us his plan."

Kung Lee, on the corner of Hollywood Road and Peel Street, has been selling its signature sugar cane juice to white collar workers, residents and tourists since 1948.

The ground-floor shop, as well as the three-storey tenement building, is a landmark in SoHo. But the building owner, named Kenny Kwong Kam-kin according to land records, is expected to close a deal soon to sell it.

The tenement was built in the 1920s and is a grade-two historic building. Eric Ng Yim-ming, assistant sales director of Midland Realty, the agent in charge of the sale, confirmed yesterday a deal was expected.

"Several low-profile, rich families are interested in this antique building. They don't plan to demolish the block but will look for character tenants such as galleries," he said.

"Those buyers didn't say they want to kick out the herbal tea shop, but a rent rise is almost certain."

He said the owner proposed a selling price of HK$100 million. The deal is likely to be completed this month.

The owner raised the monthly rent from HK$40,000 to HK$70,000 last year, said Tsui's wife, who declined to give her name.

"At that time, we almost wanted to give up the business. But our customers told us they would support us even if we raised the price of our juice and tea. That gave us confidence," she said.

The price of a glass of sugar cane juice was raised from HK$7 to HK$9 this week. Tsui's wife said the price should have been increased sooner, but it was done only after the Lunar New Year to follow Chinese tradition.

"It's very tough to meet the rent. We can't survive if the rent is raised further after the building is sold," she said.

With the rent rise, the couple could not afford to recruit workers and now rely on their two sons.

Opening from 11am to 11pm every day, the four take care of all the work - peeling, cutting, washing and steaming the canes.

Over the years, the family added more products to meet changing times and tastes.

On top of sugar cane juice and tea, Tsui's wife devised a recipe to make sugar cane pudding. The shop also brought in tortoise jelly and more varieties of herbal tea.

"Sugar cane is a natural and healthy diet. It's affordable to everyone. I want to keep on in this business. I believe this is also part of the heritage here," she said.

The family has been looking for a shop in Central. The owner of the building next door once indicated his willingness to let them move in at HK$40,000 a month, but later rented the space to a bar.

"I want to make an appeal here. If any shop owner in Central is willing to charge us rent at HK$40,000, please let us know," Mrs Tsui said.
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