Hotpot chain Sichuan Haidilao Catering Co is said to be making inroads into Hong Kong, joining a cluster of mainland counterparts whose business in Hong Kong has been chequered.
Edwin Leong Siu-hung, founder of Tai Hung Fai Enterprise and one of Hong Kong's largest retail landlords, confirmed that one of his company's properties in Mong Kok had been leased to Haidilao and could be decorated within two months at the soonest.
The Beijing-based restaurant operator also confirmed the news. It said that if everything goes according to plan, the company's first restaurant in Hong Kong will open three months later.
Reports of Haidilao's expansion and initial public offering have been circulating since the end of 2015. Yihai International Holding Ltd, a hotspot seasonings producer and Haidilao's exclusive supplier, was already a few steps ahead of it, having raised HK1 million (0 million) on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in July.
Haidilao would follow in the footsteps of rival hotpot chains such as Little Sheep, Simmer Huang and Xiao Yu Hotpot Restaurant in Hong Kong, a market the company said it bets big on.
Those early comers, however, failed to get very far in the Hong Kong market. Inner Mongolia-based Little Sheep, which has operated in Hong Kong for more than a decade, only has one of the six restaurants it initially opened.
Likewise, having entered Hong Kong no more than two years ago, Simmer Huang shut its one and only restaurant in Hong Kong at the end of last year.
"As for Haidilao, this may be a good timing to enter the Hong Kong market, where the commercial rental market has been under sustained downward pressure for quite a time and is showing signs of hitting bottom," said Hannah Li Wai-han, a strategist at UOB Kay Hian (Hong Kong).
The hotspot chain will pay a monthly rent of HK0,000 for the three-storey store.
Founded in 1994, Haidilao is known for its spicy Sichuan-style food and impressive customer services, which include free manicure, shoe polishing and shoulder massage services, as well as noodle-pulling shows and dance performances.
The restaurant chain now operates 168 outlets across 51 cities in Chinese mainland and has set up nine branches in Singapore, Los Angeles, Seoul and Tokyo.