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Guangzhou cooks up restaurant reopening
By Li Wenfang (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-05-27 05:30

GUANGZHOU: Someone thinking of having a bet in Guangzhou a few years ago would often be persuaded to take part because of the offer of a feast at Dasanyuan Restaurant.

But in 2000 the 80-year-old restaurant closed because of financial difficulties, much to the regret of local people.

Now the five storey-building at Changdi Road, renowned among many overseas Chinese who came from this capital of Guangdong Province, lies empty.

But perhaps not for much longer. The local government hopes to reopen Dasanyuan by the end of this year and has already started a renovation project. It wants to save the brand and also boost business along the once bustling Changdi Road.

Like so many other old brands in the city, Dasanyuan saw dramatic ups and downs after being founded in 1919. Legend has it that the name indicates success in the three levels of ancient imperial examinations, implying the restaurant was the top one in the city.

Dasanyuan became the No 1 restaurant soon after it opened, known for its soy sauce shark's fin. The chef who created the dish was called the "King of Shark's Fin."

Business took a nosedive during the 1930s because of the Japanese invasion but boomed again in the 1940s. It closed in the early 1950s, following the Chinese civil war, but opened once again in 1959.

The restaurant reached another peak in the mid-1980s, just after the reform and opening-up policy was adopted. At that time it was run as a joint venture between the State and a Hong Kong investor.

But the good days were not to last. In the 1990s, the Changdi area lost its position as a prime commercial area to other parts of the city. There were also fewer customers because local people began moving out of the area and there was a lack of parking spaces.

In 1999 the once mighty Dasanyuan became a fast food restaurant, then closed down a year later, unable to pay the rent.

But the closure meant more than the loss of a restaurant. It was also the loss of a unique part of local culinary culture, associated with lots of anecdotes held deep in the heart by the older generation.

"It will be great to have Dasanyuan again. It is such a nice place to have shark's fin," said a woman surnamed Chen, who has lived in the neighbourhood a long time.

According to the land and housing authorities of Yuexiu District in Guangzhou, the government will spend an estimated 10 million yuan (US$1.2 million) to renovate the old building and also build new facilities, making the floor area 6,012 square metres.

Tenders have been invited for the decoration and operation of the restaurant, but it has been stipulated that the building must be decorated in traditional Cantonese style and match the environment of the whole area.

It will be more difficult, though, for future chefs at the restaurant to cook dishes of the legendary quality which is still remembered, wrote a fan of Dasanyuan in an Internet chat room.

(China Daily 05/27/2005 page3)

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