Ruby (紅寶石) – Restaurant Empire from the 1950s to 1980s
York Lo: Ruby (紅寶石) – Restaurant Empire from the 1950s to 1980s
Left: The fa pai of Ruby Restaurant in Causeway Bay at its opening in 1966; Right: Ruby’s ad promoting its Mother’s Day special featuring pigeons and fruit punch at all five of its locations in 1984 (WKYP, 1984-5-9)
From the 1950s to the 1980s, Ruby was one of the brightest stars in the HK restaurant industry with at least five Western style restaurants across HK and Kowloon, its flagship Chinese restaurant in the heart of Causeway Bay and another one in Tai Kok Tsui. With roots in Canton and Macau, it was one of the first restaurant chains to become a public company and its founder expanded its footprint to Taipei and the United States. Even though the chain has since faded into history, it has left a mark in the collective memory of HK residents and Chinese overseas as it helped to popularize Western cuisine, holidays and classical music to the masses in HK through its food offering, events and series of concerts.
The Emergence of an Icon (1957-1972)
The driving force behind Ruby was its founder Jim Shing (詹誠, Jim being his surname), a native of Taiwan who was associated with Ta Kung Restaurant (大公餐廳), a popular Western restaurant in post-war Canton known for its cakes and jukebox. After the Communists took over, Jim came to Macau where he opened the first Ruby restaurant on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro (also known as Sun Ma Lo) with Sin Wing-chau (冼永就, 1924-) and Sin’s Pui Ching Middle School classmate Fong Io-cam (馮耀錦) in the early 1950s. A native of Shunde, Sin went to Yenching University before returning to Macau to take over his family’s timber business Veng Sao Mok Hong (永壽木行) when his father Sin Pik-san (冼碧珊), director of leading Macanese charities Tung Sin Tong (同善堂) and Kiang Wu Hospital, passed away. After achieving success in Macau, the trio set their eyes on the bigger market of nearby Hong Kong and Sin helped secure the backing of two fellow timber merchants – Leung Chik-wai (梁植偉, 1899-1982) of Hip Shing Timber (協成木行, to be covered), and Kan Chi-nam of Wing Tai Cheung (see article) to start Ruby in HK in 1957. A native of Shunde, Leung was the son of a butcher and co-founded Hang Seng Bank with B.Y. Lam, Ho Sin-hang and T.L. Sheng in 1933 and served as its vice chairman for many years. He was also a director of Hang Seng’s trading affiliate Dah Chong Hong and chairman of Wai Hing Enterprises (incorporated in 1969) which developed the Wai Hing Commercial Building at 17-19 Wing Wo Street in Sheung Wan. (WKYP, 1982-4-5)
Jim Shing (first from the right) with guests at the opening of the Ruby Café in 1957 (WKYP, 1957-7-4)
In July 1957, the Ruby Café and Restaurant (紅寶石餐廳) opened at Champagne Court in Tsim Sha Tsui. The opening reception as shown above was attended by over 1000 guests including members of Leung’s fellow Hang Seng directors such as Ho Sin-hang, Ho Tim, Ho Yin and Y.C. Liang (see article), restauranteur Stanley Wong (to be covered) and entertainment industry figures such as Cantonese opera star Pak Yuk-tong and his movie actress daughter Lucilla You Min.
Left: Jim Shing with actress Ting Ying, Ting Hao and So Fung at the Ruby booth at the HK Products Expo in 1958 (WKYP, 1958-1-7); Right: Ad announcing the opening of the Ruby restaurant in the Man Yee Building in 1958 (WKYP, 1958-7-11)
To further promote its brand, Ruby participated in the HK Products Expo with lucky draws and movie stars in its booth from December 1957 to January 1958. In July 1958, Ruby opened its second restaurant on the second floor of Man Yee Building in Central, then the hottest new building in HK featuring the first escalators in the city. To attract more customers to the new restaurant, Jim took a page from his experience in Canton and installed hi-fi stereos and hired the music expert Chan Ho-choi (陳浩才, 1937-2010) to play classical music records at the restaurant on the weekends. At the time, there were not many venues in HK for the masses to listen to classical music so the event became a hit and attracted many music lovers to the restaurant where they could enjoy a $3 meal (not cheap in 1958 dollars) while listening to and learning about classical music. This became the Ruby Concert (紅寶石音樂會) series which was expanded to the Kowloon location and by 1965 Ruby had held over 350 concerts over seven years with a total audience of over 100,000. (KSDN, 1965-7-21) Thanks to the Ruby concerts, Man Yee Building became a mecca for music lovers and many stereo equipment and hi-fi stores opened shops in the building. Ruby also turned the informative program guide developed by Chan for the concerts into a free publication “The Musical Life” (音樂生活, became a paid publication in 1970). Chan, who started writing about classical music in newspapers and hosting the RTHK program Enchanting Music in 1960 and founded the HK Children’s Choir in 1969, received the Medal of Honor and Bronze Bauhinia Star from the HK SAR government in 2000 and 2009 for his contribution to the promotion of classical music which has all started with his concert series at the Ruby restaurants in the 1950s-1970s. Aside from music, Ruby was also big in other forms of arts and boasted about having a painting by famous painter Cheung Siu-shek (張韶石) in its restaurant in 1963. (WKYP, 1963-6-1)
Left: Article and picture of Jim Shing and Ng Wing-yiu (吳永耀) from Wellcome visiting a cattle ranch in Kobe (WKYP, 1960-5-4); Right: programme for Ruby Concert in 1965
Aside from classical music, Ruby also promoted many other events to bring customers into his restaurants. This ranged from dance parties to special meals for holidays which were previously not commonly celebrated by the Chinese population such as Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day etc. Jim Shing was also creative in terms of introducing new imported food items to the market such as Kobe beef as shown in above article.
In 1962, Ruby Enterprises (紅寶石企業) was incorporated and directors by this time aside from Jim, Leung, Sin and Fong included Jim’s wife Wong Sou-ching (黃秀貞), Sin’s older brother Sin Wing-hing (冼永興), Auyeung Sum (歐陽森), the son in law of cinema owner Shiu Kai-yan (see article on the family of Shiu Lock Hing) and Young Chi-wan (楊志雲) of King Fook Jewelry and Miramar Hotel. One of its managers in the 1960s was Kwan Kwok-ki (關國基), who later branched out to start International Restaurant & Nightclub and remains an active player in the real estate and restaurant business today.
The opening of the Ruby Restaurant in Causeway Bay in 1966. Left to right at the ribbon cutting ceremony: Leung Chik-wai, Mrs. Jim, Tse Yu-chuen, Jim Shing (KSEN, 1966-3-22)
Left: Jim Shing (center) with his business partner Lee Che-ho and leading industrialist Cheng Yick-chi (right) of Chiaphua at a Duffers gathering at the Ruby restaurant in Causeway Bay in 1968; Right: Jim Shing with New Method College founder Wilson Wang on a flight during a Duffers tour in 1968 (Duffers)
In March 1966, Ruby opened its largest restaurant – the Ruby Chinese Restaurant (紅寶石酒樓) at the new Hong Kong Mansion (香港大厦) developed by Cheng Yu-tung and Henry Fok in the heart of Causeway Bay. The restaurant occupied three floors of the building and included a Western style café. The opening ceremony as shown above was attended by over 1000 guests with Legco member Tse Yu-chuen (謝雨川) as guest of honor. In 1969, Ruby spent HK$100,000 to decorate the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floor of the Causeway Bay restaurant with traditional Chinese golden sculpture. The next year, Auyeung Sum and Jim Shing were elected chairman and vice chairman of the Owners Association of Hong Kong Mansion. (WKYP, 1970-12-2)
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jim Shing was a well-known figure in the HK business scene and social circle. He and his wife had served on the board of Po Leung Kuk and Jim was also active member of the golf fraternity Duffers whose gatherings were held at his Ruby restaurant. To promote his restaurants, Jim frequently hosted members of the press at his restaurant and in one such gathering in 1969 he talked about the positive outlook of the HK restaurant industry and how his chain spent HK$200,000 a year hiring students during their breaks. (WKYP, 1969-2-22)
Going Public and Going Separate Ways (1972 – 1991)
Left: Ruby Restaurant in Causeway Bay from the opening credits of a movie from the 1970s; Right: Leung Chik-wai and Jim Shing dotting the eyes of the lion at the opening of the Ruby Chinese restaurant in Tai Kok Tsui in 1974 (KSEN, 1974-3-8)
As the stock market heated up in 1972, the shareholders of Ruby began to prepare for listing by incorporating Ruby Holdings (紅寶石發展) in September which became the holding company for Ruby Enterprises. At the time, Ruby Holdings had several hundred thousand square feet of property, its management team had average restaurant industry experience of over a dozen years and recently acquired property at Fook Kwan Mansion opposite the Mongkok pier with plans to set up a food distribution center in addition to operating a restaurant. In December 1972, Ruby Holdings went public on the Far East and Kam Ngan exchanges at $2 per share. The market reaction to the stock was somewhat lukewarm as everyone flocked to more speculative stocks such as HK Antenna (see article on S.C. Loh) which went public around the same time. (KSEN, 1972-12-4)
In October 1973, Ruby opened its fifth restaurant at 65 Waterloo Road across from Pui Ching Middle School. The new store, which involved renovation cost of over HK$2 million, occupied three floors (all owned by Ruby) – the ground floor included a cake shop and self-service fast food counter catering to the students, the first floor was a full-service restaurant with a grill room and the third floor was a modern kitchen. Rotisserie chicken were for sale for $8.50 each. (WKYP, 1973-10-26)
In March 1974, Ruby opened its second large scale Chinese restaurant at Fook Kwan Mansion in Tai Kok Tsui. The new restaurant occupied four floors and total space of 60,000 sq ft and the firm spent over HK$10 million in total investments to open the restaurant. (KSEN, 1974-3-4)
Left: Jim Shing and wife presenting souvenirs to Po Leung Kuk chairman Chan King-fook (陳景福) at one of the Ruby King’s “Gold Stone” events in 1977, left to right: Wu Shing-shuen, Mrs. Jim, Chan King-fook, Tong Pik-chun, Mrs. Tong, Jim Shing (KSEN, 1977-1-12); Right: Ruby King Restaurant in 1978
For whatever reason, Jim Shing split with Ruby and started the Ruby King group in 1974. In December 1974, Jim Shing opened the 30,000 sq ft, 120 table Ruby King Restaurant (金寶石酒樓) in Hunghom in partnership with Hunghom community leader Wu Shing-shuen (胡盛孫, 1920-2005) and Lee Che-ho (李志豪, who helped to open Ruby restaurant in Taipei) and supported by their sons – Michael Jim Fun-hin (詹勳憲) and David Wu Wing-kai (胡詠紀). (KSDN, 1974-12-14) Emulating the success of the Ruby concerts, Jim Shing teamed up with newspaper editor Tong Pik-chun (唐碧川) to organize a monthly gathering of literary and cultural figures at Ruby King called “Gold Stone Gathering” (金石雅集, a play on Ruby King’s Chinese name) during which Chinese poetry were recited and music were played. The gathering lasted into the 1980s.
With Jim out of the picture, Sin Wing-chau became the driving force at Ruby. In 1976, Ruby had over 400 employees in its 5 restaurants and 7 retail outlets in HK and Kowloon. At the time, the board of Ruby Holdings was chaired by Leung Chik-wai with Fong Io-cam as vice chairman, Sin Wing-chau as managing director, Sin’s brother Sin Wing-kuen (冼永權, 1930-2014) as deputy managing director and rounded out by Young Chi-wan, Auyeung Sum, Lam Man-yiu and Leung’s son Leung Wing-huen (梁泳煊). (KSEN, 1976-2-27)
An article from 1978 about Ruby promoted its $20 lobster dinner which include lobster imported from New Zealand, soup and coffee/tea available in its restaurants. The firm was also hosting Easter parties at the Champagne Court and Man Yee Building locations with games and performance for children on Easter Sunday at the Man Yee location hosted by TV actress Cheng Siu-ping. (WKYP, 1978-3-23)
In the six months ending March 1980, Ruby Holdings reported earnings of HK$1.7 million, which was flat from the same period a year before. Although the firm had paid off its bank debt, the market was unimpressed with its prospects with rising labor and material costs and the stock was trading around $1.80 (KSDN, 1980-5-9)
Left: Sin Wing-chau in his native Shunde in 2016; Right: article about Auyeung Sum’s business trip to Singapore and Malaysia with his picture (WKYP, 1973-2-22)
After Leung Chik-wai died in 1982, Fong Io-cam succeeded him as chairman of Ruby Holdings. Fong was a relatively low-key figure but attracted attention when he married Shaw movie actress Fong Wai-chi (方慧子) in 1977.
In October 1987, Fuji Vending from Japan acquired Ruby Holdings and renovated the Ruby restaurant in Causeway Bay, which re-opened in September 1988. In 1991, the Indonesian Chinese tycoon Oei Hong-leong acquired Ruby Holdings for HK$267 million and renamed the firm China Strategic Investment and over time exited the restaurant business. The Ruby location at 148 Prince Edward Road remains a restaurant serving similar cuisine to the old Ruby under the name of Tiffany Restaurant (名寶石餐廳) and a Chinese name that closely resembles the old Ruby.
As for Jim Shing, he expanded his Ruby King group of restaurants internationally, opening Ruby King and Ruby restaurants in Taipei and opened the Ruby King Chinese restaurant at 4320 El Camino Real in Los Altos, 10 minutes away from the Stanford University Stadium in 1981. Over time, the Ruby King group had also faded into history. His son Michael helped to run Ruby King and was an appointed member of the Kowloon City District Council for 4 years until 2004 and was awarded the Medal of Honor by the HK SAR government for his community service. Another son Frederick Jim Fun-kwong (詹勳光) is a long-time veteran of the securities industry, having served on the board of Ruby Holdings and SFK Construction and worked for SHK Securities from 1977 to 1996 and DBS Vickers in more recent years.
As for Sin Wing-chau, he retired after the sale of Ruby to Japanese interests in 1988 and devoted most of his energy in the past three decades to charitable work, especially in his native Shunde. His nephew Sin Chi-yiu (冼志耀) who runs the family’s timber business in Macau is also in charge of an athletic club called Grupo Desportivo “Ruby” (紅寶石體育會), another tribute to the old Ruby restaurant.
Jim Shing (in suit and hat) presiding over the graduation ceremony of the Auxiliary Police as chairman of the Hunghom Kaifong Welfare Association in 1985 (WKYP, 1985-12-18)
Sources (other than those cited above):
This article was first posted on 13th July 2020.
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