Home > Living > People > Third-gen Yvonne Kam on Yung Kee Restaurant’s legacy and HK$60 million revamp
Third-gen Yvonne Kam on Yung Kee Restaurant’s legacy and HK$60 million revamp

Founded in 1936, Yung Kee Restaurant has a legacy in our city that spans generations. From a humble streetside dai pai dong to its current multi-level location on Wellington Street, the brand has grown its reputation by celebrating authentic flavours and traditions of Cantonese cuisine. We speak to Yvonne Kam, granddaughter of founder Kam Shui-fai, about history, roast goose, and their recent renovations.

Pre-pandemic, whenever I had friends from overseas visiting, Yung Kee Restaurant was always, unquestionably, included in one of our culinary pitstops. That was just the way of life: One cannot simply visit Hong Kong without trying Yung Kee’s famous roast goose; it would be a sin.  

Even now, there’s something comforting about the dependency and consistency of a visit to Yung Kee. Quick meal? It’ll be rice with two choices of roast meat for me — plus, the super comforting double-boiled soup of the day. Or the wonton soup noodles! Always a classic. In essence, Yung Kee, for many, is an embodiment of traditional Cantonese cuisine; an ode to the flavours of our city.  

Yvonne Kam / Yung Kee Restaurant

A family affair

The historical restaurant is currently run by a member of the third generation of the Kam family — Yvonne Kam. In 2019, she also launched Yung Kee’s sister restaurant, Yung’s Bistro, to modernise the brand and appeal to a younger, broader audience. Kam is one of the few female entrepreneurs running a traditional Chinese restaurant business in Hong Kong, spearheading Yung Kee’s HK$60 million facelift. The venue was closed completely for over six months while the kitchen, first and second floors were being renovated.  

Now that the restaurant has reopened with a brand-new look, we catch Kam for a little walk down memory lane over a few cups of warm tea.  

1st floor / Yung Kee Restaurant

When did you first realise that your family ran such a heritage brand? 

When I was a kid, all I knew was that we had restaurants. We’d come to Yung Kee for big birthday parties or festive events, but I never really went out much back then; I was very studious. I knew the restaurant was famous but it was only after returning from Canada [where she studied] that I understood the significance of the brand.  

You worked in finance and accounting prior to this. What inspired you to join the family business? 

I like to think it was destiny. My father always pushed us to study hard, get a professional degree, and find a good job. Even when I first came back in Hong Kong, I didn’t immediately join the family business. I was working in a start-up which truly taught me a lot about running a business: I was in the back office, looking at numbers, looking at the operation, the exposure, learning to make the business more holistic, and so on. This was a good foundation for me prior to joining the family business because, without that depth of experience, I don’t think I would be as capable or as competent as I am now.   

2nd floor / Yung Kee Restaurant

What’s your current role within the company?  

I am the chief financial officer of Yung Kee, but I’m also involved in overseeing the general restaurant operation. When I first joined, there was a lot that I had to learn very quickly, like pricing strategy, business development and quality control. We have to keep an eye on our competitors; some restaurants change their menus every one or two months, for example, but for us, we try to be consistent with our offerings. We do have seasonal dishes and daily specials, of course, but it’s all about balancing the iconic dishes with new offerings here and there.   

What do you think makes Yung Kee stand out against its competitors?  

I think it changes depending on the time period. A long time ago, goose used to be a very premium meat. My grandfather was a little crafty back then because he first went to work in a few different restaurants to learn the different techniques and recipes of roasting goose from si fus [culinary masters] around town. That was the basis of him developing his own secret recipe. We were lucky to have a lot of famous faces come in back in the ’60s, it even got to the point where visitors from overseas would come to Hong Kong just to try our roasted meats because we were on the list of Fortune Top 15 restaurants in the world.

Another aspect that makes us stand out is our use of charcoal roasting. That really gives our meats a different aroma and deeper flavour than, say, an electric or gas stove. We’ve consistently used the same method from back in the old days to keep up the authenticity of what we do. Preparation is so important, too! The humidity and heat in Hong Kong are really awful sometimes, which can make the skin of the meat too moist. With the renovations, we’ve completely upgraded all our equipment to tackle this. On top of that, we use high quality ingredients — always.  

Tell us more about the recent renovation.  

Next year will be the 80th anniversary of when we first opened our restaurant, so we decided this would be a good time to upgrade. We wanted to have a refresh, of course, but more importantly, we wanted to also preserve the heritage of the brand by incorporating the old with the new; turning the restaurant into a living museum to showcase our history and development over the years. 

The bar / Yung Kee Restaurant

This floor [1/F] was a tricky one. We have quite a big space, but most patrons have only been to the ground floor. To draw the crowd up, we wanted to create a floor with a distinct character of its own, so our brief was to make this level reminiscent of a traditional tea house, but with inspiration from iconic Hong Kong films such as In the Mood for Love and The World of Suzie Wong. We wanted it to look classic, but, at the same time, engage the younger generations, which is why we also added a bar to this corner. The bubble signage there was dug up from our archives. You can see a photo of it in its original location downstairs.

We’ve kept a lot of the original elements of the restaurant. The floorboards, for example, took more than a month for us to decide to keep or not. A lot of them were cracked and could not be saved, but we kept as many as we could to try and preserve the DNA of the place. The staircase here is a feature that most people don’t consciously notice, but we’ve since learnt that it’s impossible to find a craftsman who can replicate the way it’s tiled anymore. Some of the pieces we’ve had to send to the team who did the restoration of the Imperial Palace to help. It was a full-blown mission, and it took longer than we expected, but I’m very pleased with how it turned out.  

Yung Kee Restaurant, 32-40 Wellington Street, Central, +852 2522 1624 

Third-gen Yvonne Kam on Yung Kee Restaurant’s legacy and HK$60 million revamp

Sandra Kwong

Features Editor

A perpetually hungry individual paired with an acute dirty martini obsession. You'll catch Sandra waltzing around town from gallery openings to various happy hours. Usually waxing lyrical about her 10-step skincare routine or her latest gadget. Currently missing: long ski runs in Hanazono.

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