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Roger Li Ming-hui: Restaurateur and Owner of Gingko House
Restaurateur Roger Li Ming-hui is the owner of Gingko House, which may look like any other eatery on Gough Street, but it has a unique hiring policy: only senior citizens. He talks to June Ng about being old and useful.

By June Ng | Feb 05, 2009

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  • Roger Li Ming-hui: Restaurateur and Owner of Gingko House
    Street Talk - Roger Li Ming-hui

HK Magazine: Why do you hire senior citizens in your restaurant?
Roger Li:
I used to be a social worker, and I always felt that the quality of privately owned elderly homes was far from desirable. So after I left my organization, I founded my own, better-quality care home with a business partner. Business was good, so we founded a charity trust to provide more community services for the elderly. From there, we realized that when people talked about unemployment, no one cared about people in their 50s or 60s. So we thought, why don’t we start a business that can offer elderly people job opportunities?

HK: Any particular reason you decided to open a restaurant over any other kind of venture?
Actually, it was just by chance. I happened to know a young chef who was really up for the idea. So we’re in charge of the hiring and he’s responsible for food quality, because at the end of the day, even if people regard us as a social enterprise and they come to support the elderly, if the food is no good then they won’t come back.

HK: So not everyone in your restaurant is old?
No, the cooks in the kitchen team are young. And there’s one young waiter who’s responsible for running around or going up and down the stairs for urgent matters.

HK: What are the benefits of hiring old people?
Senior citizens are very diligent and they always give 100 percent to their work. They seldom ask for leave, whether they want a sick day or annual leave. Customers love senior waiters because they always have funny stories about their lives to share. And to be frank, a lot of them are better educated and speak better English than a lot of young people today. I once had an employee who could speak four languages.

HK: Is the job ever too tiring for them?
Besides having a younger staff member to help out with heavier tasks, we actually have a very friendly working schedule. One shift is only about five to six hours long. Almost all our facilities in the restaurant cater for the elderly; the dial on the phone is bigger so they can see the numbers easily, and we have medical appliances such as a blood pressure monitor onsite. We also have a consultant to help them fit into the working environment.

HK: Why do you think Hong Kong still lacks social enterprises like yours?
People’s main failing when it comes to this kind of business is they they don’t really plan for them to grow in a sustainable direction. A lot of the time, the organization gets just one year of funding, and when that year is up and it hasn’t turned into a viable business, it has to close down.

Gingko House, 44 Gough St., Central, 2545-1200.

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