Restaurants, Bars and Cafes

Glasgow’s original authentic ‘Chinatown Restaurant’ to close down after 25 years

By Ian Marland at

It opened amid a fanfare of civic pomp and Chinese celebrations a quarter of a century ago.

The city’s Lord Provost at the time and dignitaries were among the first guests to sample its dim sum menu.

Chinatown Restaurant was one of a new wave of authentic Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurants to open in Scotland.

Chinatown Restaurant

Opening: Chinatown Restaurant had a civic welcome back in 1992

Authentic because it imported most of its produce from China – its fish, seafood and spices – becoming a hit with Glasgow’s burgeoning Chinese community.

Part of a new Chinatown quarter developed on New City Road, the restaurant’s arrival was a celebration of the city’s Chinese culture.

But the restaurant in Cowcaddens has struggled to keep pace with changing times.

Next month Chinatown Restaurant will close its doors for the last time.

Owner Edward Wu, whose family opened the restaurant back in 1992, said it had been a difficult decision to take.

But he said the pressures faced by Chinatown Restaurant were common to the Chinese and Asian dining community as a whole: essentially the changing aspirations and tastes of Scotland’s Chinese community along with tough trading conditions.

Chinatown Restaurant

Appeal: Chinatown Restaurant was popular with the local Chinese community

“The lease is due up on the building here, and we’ve decided not to renew it – times are incredibly difficult now for restaurants like ours.

“It’s keeping us going, but staffing is a major issue for us.

“We have been lucky to still have the same kitchen staff we had when we opened – but in terms of porters and waiting staff, no one is taking up the reins.

“It is particularly hard to find Chinese people to fit our particular niche with our waiters and waitresses.

“Because our customers are predominantly local Chinese, our staff need to speak a minimum of two languages which is Cantonese and also English.

“But the people who should be able to speak those languages are no longer taking up these types of jobs any more.

“For the younger generations their mothers and fathers have worked hard and given them an education – and it’s just one of those things they don’t wont to go on and do now.

Chinatown Restaurant

Orient: The restaurant is part of the Chinatown complex

“They’d rather work in banking or the financial sector – their aspirations have changed.

“They are no longer wanting to become cooks or chefs or work in restaurants.”

Edward said he knew of four or five restaurants in the city facing similar fates.

Last week Amber Restaurant on Byres Road closed after 40 years of trading in the heart of the West End.

“I know there are restaurants facing the same staffing pressures that we have – it’s not easy to find the right people anymore.”

The first Chinese restaurant in Glasgow was the Wah Yen in Govan Road, opened in the late 1940s.

FASHIONABLE

As eating out became more fashionable and tastes broadened, Chinese food increased in popularity, providing employment opportunities for immigrants.

Many went on to start their own businesses or work in the professions such as Edward’s father Michael, who opened Chinatown Restaurant within the wider Chinatown project with its traditional Chinese pagoda entrance.

But times have changed since that grand opening.

For restaurants importing produce, the fall in the value of the pound has led to spiralling costs.

Imported fish and seafood alone have tripled in price in just a few years.

Rising costs have come together with changing tastes to put the squeeze on traditional Chinese restaurants.

When Chinatown Restaurant closes on September 2, it is likely a new modern restaurant will open in its place.

DIFFERENT

Edward said: “Times have changed. Once, Chinese families would have come to this restaurant two or three times a week.

“It became a family restaurant, with children growing up with the restaurant.

“But the young generation are less Chinese than the previous generation – and their tastes are different.

“They are more enticed by Italian food, pizzas and burgers these days.

“It was tradition to go out and have dinner with your parents or enjoy a Sunday brunch, but it’s a tradition that’s been lost over the years.

“They’ve all grown up now and have decided let’s go and do something different.”