A 143-year-old Beijing roast duck restaurant may be closing for renovations but it is not about to let its ovens go cold.
To maintain its tradition, the restaurant said it will keep embers from its wood-fired ovens burning during the six-month refurbishing job.
The oldest outlet of Quanjude Group of roast duck restaurants, on Qianmen Street in downtown Beijing, closed for business on Tuesday night.
A ceremony to preserve the oven fire, which the restaurant says has not been extinguished since it first opened in 1864, was conducted before the end of business at 8 PM on Tuesday.
According to the restaurant’s electronic board, the restaurant has served 115,330,259 ducks in over 140 years of service.
It has hosted dinners for millions of people from all over the world, including former president of the United States George H.W. Bush, Japan's former Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Cuba's President Fidel Castro.
"The electric board will stop tracking the ducks, but the stove has been burning for about a century and a half, and the fire will never die out," Jiang Junxian, chairman of the board of Quanjude Group Co. Ltd. said in an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.
He said the restaurant will keep embers burning in an ancient cooking vessel that will be kept on-site during the renovations.
"We have prepared a treasured vessel made of copper and will place the burning embers inside the vessel at 8 PM sharp," he said.
According to Jiang, special staff will be assigned to add fuel each day to keep the fires burning.
Before the closure, many local residents rushed to the restaurant for a last bite in the old "lao dian" restaurant.
Jiang said during the last few days, daily sales jumped by about 50,000 yuan (US$6,470).
The renovations of the outlet are being carried out at the same time as the massive redevelopment of Qianmen Street, providing the restaurant with an opportunity to expand, said Wang Xiaoshan, a spokesperson for the restaurant chain.
"Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant has been operating beyond its capacity for a long time, and there have been long queues of customers waiting to dine at the restaurant each day," said Jiang. "I bet there will be even more customers wanting to taste the famous Quanjude roast ducks during the Olympic Games in Beijing next year, so there is an urgent need to improve the dining environment and expand the seating capacity of the restaurant."
When Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant resumes service about Oct. 1 -- the 58th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China -- its total floor space will have been expanded by 1,000 sq m.
The founding father of Quanjude was a farmer named Yang Quanren from north China's Hebei Province. He grew up raising ducks for his landlord before going into business for himself.
In 1864, he bought a bankrupt fruit store and turned it into a restaurant specializing in duck cuisine. Acting on the suggestion of his fortune teller, he decided to call the new restaurant Quanjude.
In 2004, the World Brand Laboratory estimated that the brand name, Quanjude, to be worth 8.5 billion yuan (about US$1.02 billion).
Quanjude now operates seven roast duck restaurants in Beijing and three in other parts of the country. It also has 50-odd franchise outlets, including one in Tokyo, said a Quanjude Group manager.
Closing the Qianmen restaurant will cost the chain about 400,000 yuan (about US$50,000) a day in lost revenue, said Wang.
About 70 percent of the 300 or so employees working with the Qianmen outlet, situated 500 meters south of the city gate at Qianmen, will be assigned to work at a new outlet scheduled to open on Thursday. The remainder will be given jobs at other Quanjude Group outlets, said Wang.
(Xinhua News Agency April 25, 2007)