Hard Rock Cafe hits rock bottom in Beijing


I am old enough to remember the first ever Hard Rock Cafe started by two American ex-pats in central London way back in 1971.

It was the only place you could get a decent burger and fries, and had a wonderfully laid-back warm friendly atmosphere (as well as Eric Clapton’s Fender Lead ll guitar).

Indeed I have another more personal link to the HRC as in January 1976, after a rather riotous Stag Night, my husband-to-be and his merry band of henchmen, having enjoyed rather too much liquid refreshment, went there for a late-night nosh and their unruly behaviour got them slung out, and banned for life – and quite right too!

Since then the HRC has developed into a global brand, and the company has been bought and sold several times – since 2007 it has been owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  The Beijing branch is franchised to HRC Singapore.

Tourists who came on package tours of China seemed to make a bee-line for the Beijing HRC, as though it served the only food they could trust.

Alas, no more.  HRC BJ is now defunct, pushing up daisies, a dead parrot of a cafe.

But why? I hear you ask -  after all, this has become an iconic brand – well the reason is a story of modern China, where foreign companies take no responsibility for their Chinese workers.

The restaurant here in Beijing seemed to be very successful, very busy and with few customer complaints.   Suddenly, in the early morning of September 25th this year, a ‘mob’ raided the premises. Having broken into the two storey restaurant which is located in the up-market Chaoyang district, they smashed their way into the office area and seized all financial documents as well as the computers – including those that controlled the HRC’s surveillance equipment.

Three days after the raid the 90 employees received emails from HRC Singapore claiming that the BJ restaurant was now closed permenantly because it was not up to scratch and had not been doing good business (bullshit).  Therefore they were terminating the contracts for all employees.  Hmmmm…methinks something is a little smelly.

Jimmy Hoon (Hong Maokai) the Singaporean manager of HRC Beijing had disappeared on the evening before the raid, and he had sold a car which was owned by the restaurant, keeping the cash for himself prior to fleeing back to Singapore. As he had turned his mobile phone off, none of the staff could reach him to ask what the hell was going on.  Not only were they left out of pocket and out of work, but the people here in Beijing who had been supplying HRC with food and beverages had not been paid either, leaving them high and dry with what seems to be almost 1 million yuan of unpaid bills.  The Singaporeans seem less than concerned.  So far no-one has been compensated, and who knows if they ever will be.

Meantime, the Yashow Clothes Market is still selling T-shirts emblazoned with the company logo and reading ‘Hard Rock Cafe Beijing’ .  More fool you if you buy one.

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About herschelian

Recently moved to Beijing from London - its all new to me! Trying to learn Chinese, and what makes this city tick.
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