Time-honored restaurants change with the times, while quality is always the priority

Hu Min
Traditional restaurants are undergoing changes as they adapt to changing tastes, cater to the young, and revive old brands in the post-COVID era.
Hu Min

Editor's notes:

High-quality growth, the most-mentioned phrase during the Two Sessions, will keep guiding China's new route of development. As a bellwether city, Shanghai takes a model role in mapping out a growth of high quality, and here are what we find in different sectors of our life.

Shot by Jiang Xiaowei. Edited by Jiang Xiaowei.

The stereotype of traditional restaurants is that they are usually crowded with white-haired diners.

But such an impression needs an update when time-honored restaurants try hard to jump on the modern bandwagon, adapting to changing tastes and reviving old brands in the post-COVID era.

It's lunchtime. Queues have formed outside the third floor of the Huanghe Road outlet of Shanghai's oldest Cantonese-style eatery, Xing Hua Lou Restaurant, in Huangpu District. Surprisingly, many of the waiting diners are young.

One of the restaurant's floors now primarily serves snacks and drinks, and the menu has been enriched.

The restaurant is experimenting with new ways to appeal to the younger generation's taste buds by introducing nearly 20 Cantonese-style wanghong (online celebrity) drinks, such as milk tea, mango pomelo sago and lemon tea, as well as a new menu.

Time-honored restaurants change with the times, while quality is always the priority
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Tables are all taken at the Huanghe Road outlet of Xing Hua Lou Restaurant, Shanghai's oldest Cantonese-style eatery.

It is similar to those found on the streets of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, selling traditional Cantonese congee, noodles and rice flour.

Barbecued pork buns, steamed turnip cakes, glutinous rice shaomai (steamed dumplings) stuffed with shrimp, changfen (rice rolls), and crispy durian pastry are all traditional Cantonese snacks.

Dish prices have also been reduced.

The restaurant began a trial operation in late January following an environment renovation, followed by another month of official operation, and has been rewarded with brisk business growth.

In addition to lunchtime, people wait in the afternoon to secure a table.

"We have witnessed a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in diners after the upgrade," said Chen Zihao, deputy director of the Huanghe Road location. "We are pleased to report that approximately 30 percent of our diners are now young people who have embraced the change."

Time-honored restaurants change with the times, while quality is always the priority
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Counters selling bakery products.

The third floor of the restaurant has 30 tables, and the first customers arrived as early as 9:30am, despite the fact that the restaurant opens at 10:30am.

At 10:30am, all tables are full, with some people waiting an hour for a bite.

"To be honest, we are surprised to find many young people nowadays are fans of time-honored brands," Chen said. "The product upgrade is an enticement, and you see, some youngsters are visiting us to try our dim-sum after learning about the upgrade."

In his observation, the outlet has a high occupancy rate because white-collar workers come on weekdays, and then they bring their parents on weekends to try Cantonese-style morning tea, which is passed down from generation to generation.

"We have lowered the prices and incorporated new elements into the old brand," Chen said. "A restaurant has two menus, which is a departure from the traditional catering industry."

"Some snacks served at our eatery, such as sugar puff doughnuts and caramel treats, are not easily found at many Cantonese-style eateries in Guangzhou, and our chefs have made some adaptations to cater to the tastes of young people," he added.

Time-honored restaurants change with the times, while quality is always the priority
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A staffer makes milk tea at the restaurant.

Meanwhile, for the first time, counters selling bakery and pastry products for takeout have been established.

"The most popular snacks are sugar puff doughnuts and caramel treats, but congee with minced pork and preserved eggs is also popular. Cantonese-style milk tea, mango pomelo sago, and coconut-flavored avocado are popular drinks."

Some diners hope for more stir-fry options, according to Chen, and the restaurant is updating its menu to include more seasonal cuisines.

"The dishes are delicate and give consumers a brand-new feeling," Tang Yunqi, a young Shanghai diner, said. "It is unlike other old eateries that appear old from the environment to the menu."

Tang said she had never dined at the restaurant before because it is an old brand, but she came after hearing about the renovation and deciding to give it a try.

She ordered some Cantonese delicacies like changfen and hefen, the popular rice noodles in Cantonese cuisine.

"They're delicious, and the fried fish with spicy salt is also tasteful; however, the lemon tea is a little too sweet."

Tang said that she had to wait a while for entry.

"I will definitely bring my mother here again because the dining experience is excellent," she said.

Time-honored restaurants change with the times, while quality is always the priority
Ti Gong

Erica Yang, a Shanghainese diner in her 30s, said her favorite dessert is caramel treats.

She frequents the restaurant, which is about a 15-minute walk from her house.

"I like pineapple lemon tea because its sweet and sour taste complements the flavor of young Shanghainese," Yang said.

"The service is good, the price is reasonable, and the dishes are quite different from what I've had in the past, with many innovations," she added. "My son's favorite desserts are here."

"As a patron, I discovered that the line lasted until 2:30pm, with many white-collar diners working nearby," Yang said.

"We will stick to the most traditional Cantonese flavor while developing new snack recipes based on diners' changing tastes," said Zhi Jing, deputy general manager of Xing Hua Lou.

Huanghe Road is a popular food street for Shanghai's gourmets.

"There are many tourists and white-collar workers in the area, and the change is primarily intended to attract the young generation, aged 20 to 35," Zhi explained.

For the first time, the time-honored brand is collaborating with Ele.me and Meituan to launch meal delivery services.

The bags and cups take a "guochao" (Chinese chic) approach, with images of xingshi, Guangdong-style lion dances.

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