Wednesday 6 April 2022

Uncle Russ Cafe — empty… closing?

Empty this Wednesday morning 11:30 HKT
I’ve been a customer of Uncle Russ Coffee since they opened their first Coffee Bar in Kowloon in 1990. I met the founder, the actual, original "Uncle Russ", a big, bouncy Canadian, who brought the first proper Espresso to Hong Kong to a “hole-in-the-wall” coffee bar on the corner of Canton and Peking Roads. I lived right opposite in the then Harbour Apartments, in a fabulous flat overlooking Central. 

I know the current owner well, a Hongkonger from Nepal, Y.B. Rai, aka “YB”, who bought the business from Uncle Russ some decades ago. At various times over those decades -- and only half in jest — I’ve offered to buy his entire Hong Kong operation, now grown to coffee shops (great high-margin business) and bars throughout Hong Kong. In response YB laughs and changes the subject. Usually to golf. He’s a great golfer, so kind that he’s asked me to play with him from time to time, though I’m a golf duffer and YB shoots from a 2….

 But now I wonder. He must be hurting. Because the business is hurting. 

I always ask entrepreurs “how’s business?” And from YB, the answer is always "it’s fine”.  But now? From the pic above business must be down, maybe halved. All because of Carrie Lam's idiotic ZCP, Zero Covid policy (my words not his). To avoid financial ruin will he have to shut down the coffee shop I’ve been coming to for years, for decades? Close a business over 32 years old?

All because of Omicron. Correction: all because of our policy reactionto Omicron. A disease that is 99% Asymptomatic (Shanghai data). And the deaths almost all in unvaccinated elderly, with a median age of death of 86. (Hong Kong government stats).

There must be another way. And of course there is: copy any other country than Hong Kong. Singapore, Thailand, Australia. UK, US, Japan, the EU. Literally anywhere else is more relaxed and more “normal” than us here in Hong Kong. And doing better. 

Think how many other small businesses around Hong Kong, “mom and pop stores” are going under thanks to ZCP.  Thousands of families ruined. But if we say this, the lockdown hawks say we’re preaching “Business before Health”. That we “want to kill grandma”. They sneer at “moaning bar and coffee shop owners”, mock “selfish hair salons”.  What sort of discussion is that? 

I think we’ve had enough. At least, I’ve had enough. And most people I know, still here, have had enough. The grandma I used to meet here at Uncle Russ, she’s had enough. I call her the “gay granny” (yes, I said “gay”) who has grown kids in Oz, but lived here with her now wife, a Cathay pilot, (female, to be clear) who had jointly bought a flat just before Covid and had planned a life here, finally gave up because of the crazy hoops that pilots have to jump through before and after every flight — multiple PCR tests, quarantines in a hotel, not at home. Over half her life this last year was spent in quarantine. They didn’t want to leave, but in the end they had to. They had to. They’ve returned to Adelaide. 

And I have one less friend to chat with. 

I hope it’s not one less caff to enjoy excellent cappuccinos and write blogs in.