Locals gathered along the waterfront to say goodbye to the floating restaurant.
Measuring approximately 260 feet in length, the colossal three-story Jumbo Floating Restaurant was famous for its gigantic green and red neon sign that read “foon ying gwong lam,” in Chinese for “welcome.” In its heyday, it was part of the largest floating restaurant in the world.
For almost half a century it was the main boat of Jumbo Kingdom, which also included the older and smaller Tai Pak restaurant boat (dating from 1952), a barge for seafood tanks, a 130-foot-long kitchen boat and eight small ferries to transport visitors from two nearby docks.
In recent years, Jumbo Floating Restaurant was the only one of the group to be operational and open to diners.
“Jumbo Floating Restaurant left Hong Kong today,” confirmed Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited, the company that owns and operates Jumbo Kingdom, in a statement released after the tow was completed.
“A unique icon for residents and tourists alike, Jumbo Floating Restaurant is proud to have been based in the Southern District of Hong Kong Island for 46 years. Throughout this journey, it has been a great honor for us. to share beautiful collective memories with locals and foreign visitors.
“We all sincerely thank you for your love and care. We take this opportunity to send you our best wishes for a brighter future,” the statement read.
Remember an icon
He was a well-liked neighbor of CNN’s Hong Kong bureau. On a sunny day, Jumbo Kingdom was a favorite subject to photograph from office windows.
The restaurant certainly looked worn, compared to its glory days, but still exuded a glamorous charm of yesteryear.
The approach to the floating restaurant – accessible only via a special Jumbo-branded boat – was one of the most spectacular restaurant entrances in the world.
Upon arrival, you will see the sumptuous imperial-style facade with reliefs covering the entire wall, massive commissioned paintings in the stairwell, and many colorful Chinese-style designs, including a golden throne in the dining room.
A young Kenny Chan poses at Jumbo in the 1990s.
Courtesy of Seayou Explorer Travel Limited
Chan’s parents were one of the families from the fishing village living in Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter. His wife also grew up on a boat.
“I still remember how excited I was as a kid every time I got the chance to jump on a sampan and visit Jumbo. The ride wasn’t just transportation – it made us feel like we were visiting a palace. There is no other place in Hong Kong that could offer the same feeling.”
These fond memories of his childhood in the fishing village of Aberdeen in the harbor inspired him to found Seayou in 2018. The company offers private charter services as well as a cultural sampan tour called Aberdeen 1773 Cultural Tour which included a stop at the Jumbo Kingdom before Departure.
“The cultural, symbolic and touristic value of Jumbo is significant and cannot be quantified…We understand that maintaining Jumbo can be difficult. We are simply discouraged to see the government jeopardize its own plan [to invigorate the neighborhood] set in 2020 and their decision to “not interfere” [in Jumbo’s fate]“, explains Chan.
Members of the Chan family attend a wedding banquet at Jumbo in the 2010s.
Courtesy of Seayou Explorer Travel Limited
A floating wonder
In its heyday, the restaurant ship starred in many local and international films, including “Enter the Dragon” (with Bruce Lee fronting Tai Pak), “Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge” and Stephen Chow’s comedy ” God of Cookery”. ”
It was a must stop for visiting celebrities including Queen Elizabeth II and the late Prince Philip, Jimmy Carter, Chow Yun Fat, Elizabeth Taylor and Tom Cruise.
“Some have dismissed its architectural significance as a ‘false’ imperial design, but I disagree – it’s an interesting attempt [at] transform a floating space [into] an ancient Chinese palace. Looking at the historical background, it was built at a time when this imperial-style Chinese aesthetic was not even encouraged in China (“Old things” were to be suppressed during the Cultural Revolution). Thus, Jumbo Kingdom reflected how the Chinese in Hong Kong then had a greater desire or passion for these ancient Chinese traditions. »
A view of the restaurant at night, illuminated by its famous neon lights.
courtesy of Jumbo Kingdom
The end of an era
Of course, his golden age did not last.
As Aberdeen Harbor’s fishing population dwindled, Jumbo Kingdom became less popular among locals and tourists.
In March 2020, the restaurant’s owners said they had accumulated a loss of over HKD 100 million ($13 million) and announced that the restaurant would be closed until further notice.
Several proposals had been put forward to save the historic icon, but its high maintenance cost had deterred potential investors.
The Hong Kong government didn’t seem keen on getting involved either.
The Antiquities Advisory Board ruled that ships – unlike buildings on land – were not part of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance, meaning Jumbo was not eligible for city protection.
Without a “white knight” lifeguard the city was waiting for, the group decided to move the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, the main boat, to an undisclosed shipyard away from Hong Kong before its operating license expired in June.
Tai Pak, the smaller and older boat, as well as the recently capsized kitchen boat, are currently still parked in the port. Nothing has been confirmed about the future of these boats so far.
No matter what happens next, Hong Kong has lost one of the biggest and brightest jewels in its crown.