Time stands still for Jimmy's waiter

Local | Mandy Zheng 15 Jun 2020

When a 101-year-old Shanghainese man hobbled into Jimmy's Kitchen in Central with his daughter, waiter Ricky Wong Keung was startled but curious.

For Wong did not recognize the pair, although the century-old eatery is known for its regulars.

"The elder told me that when he was a kid, his father used to take him to the Jimmy's in Shanghai," Wong, 67, recalled. "And then I couldn't speak. I felt so proud to be working here."

That pride may not last much longer for Wong, as Hong Kong's own Jimmy's, in South China Building in Central, will close its doors on Sunday.

Opened 92 years ago, it has become one of the city's most long-lasting and iconic western restaurants, frequented by celebrities and high ranking politicians like former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

Adorned with old photos and the red hue lighting, Jimmy's Kitchen presents itself with a homely and nostalgic vibe, preserving classic western cuisine from Hong Kong's colonial era.

But the gourmet hotspot will have to relocate due to the end of lease on its venue, with the future uncertain.

Jimmy's Kitchen dates back to the early 1920s, when two American entrepreneurs living in Shanghai first started the restaurant, before moving it to Hong Kong in 1928. Then in 2002, it was acquired by the Epicurean Group, a local giant in the food and beverage industry.

"It has witnessed so many major historical changes in the city. I've heard customers lamenting: how can this place disappear?" Wong says.

But the waiter will remember the little things most, such as the "human touch" and "closeness" between staff and customers.

Wong, a 27-year Jimmy's veteran, recalls serving a nervous man in his 20s who took his girlfriend to try western cuisine for the first time.

"It was all very cute. He called me uncle naturally," Wong says, adding that the couple, now married, still come to the place with their two children.

There is also a young lady who used to dine with her parents, before starting to bring her date instead.

"They never showed any intimacy here, probably afraid to create gossip that might travel to her family. I feel like I'm keeping a secret for her," Wong says, laughing.

The eatery has also saved customers' own creations on the menu, like one of its classics: beef fried rice "Wong's Special."

Its recipe was originally shared by a Shanghai businessman surnamed Wong, who got tired of eating steak one day and asked the cook to slice the beef and fry it with onion and rice.

Back in his days as a rookie, Wong found it hard to adapt to the serving style at Jimmy's, where customers would order dishes not written on the menu.

"I often got confused when taking orders, and some senior colleagues would come to my rescue. They would say: here we do things differently."

Wong remembers the gossip that older employees used to share, like how they returned to Jimmy's, temporarily closed during wartime in the 1940s, just to make sure it was not robbed or torn down.

"I'd come back to work here at any time," said Wong.

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