North Korean restaurants in China continue to face difficulties

Facing a lack of patrons, some North Korean restaurants have launched delivery services to break out of their financial slump

North Korean restaurants in China near the border with North Korea have yet to return to normal operations and are even sending their sending their employees to other places to make money, Daily NK has learned.  

“There are a lot of North Korean restaurants in China’s Liaoning Province and Jilin Province and many of them are either unable to return to normal business or are even shutting down altogether,” a source in China told Daily NK on May 14. 

Many restaurants in China restarted operations after North Korea recently ordered them to reopen, but reports from the country suggest that many have been unable to reopen fully and some have just gone bust. 

“Even if we keep the restaurants open, we don’t get patrons. What happens is that the workers will come and clean, or just fool around,” a North Korean restaurant worker in Liaoning Province told Daily NK. “That’s why the restaurants have been sending workers to earn money at other places at night. The workers are tired because they have to work all night. They don’t really have any other choice, though – that’s the only way they can survive.” 

This report suggests that restaurant workers are taking on shifts during the day and during the night. They are only able to rest for a couple of hours during the wee hours of the morning before returning to work again. 

trucks
In this photo taken by a Daily NK source in Dandong in April, North Korean restaurant workers are seen unloading supplies from a vehicle. / Image: Daily NK

Restaurant workers can earn a daily wage of RMB 70 (about USD 9.85) at their nighttime jobs, which adds up to approximately RMB 2,000 (around USD 281) a month.

These wages, however, are paid to restaurant owners or managers and the employees themselves only receive a cut of 30-40%. Most of the money taken out of their salaries are used for bribes or for “loyalty fees.” What this means is that workers receive less than RMB 800 (around USD 112) per month. 

Workers are facing financial difficulties as a result, requiring RMB 10-20 (around USD 1.40 to 2.80) per day to pay for meals. 

TROUBLE ALL AROUND

North Korean restaurant workers in Jilin Province are facing similarly difficult circumstances, Daily NK sources reported. 

“We’re going to shut down soon,” one restaurant worker in the province told Daily NK. “The pandemic seemed to be slowing, but now infections are starting to spread again, so there’s no hope [for us]. This time last year we earned a lot of money by working at mountain villas [산장], but there’s nowhere to go this year.” 

These “mountain villas” are similar to vacation lodges in South Korea. North Korean restaurants have long dispatched their employees to these sites to earn money through serving food or by performing dance or music shows for Chinese guests.

Privately-run restaurant in Pyongyang
A privately-run restaurant on the first floor of an apartment building in Pyongyang. (Taken in August 2018). / Image: Daily NK

“We haven’t earned enough money to fulfill the quotas [of money] to send to the government, so we have to do whatever it takes [to survive],” the worker said. “The employees at our restaurant will be sent to other places to work, not restaurants.” 

Facing a lack of patrons, some North Korean restaurants have launched delivery services; however, the food they provide is generally unappealing to ordinary Chinese and is more expensive than other restaurants. The delivery services have reportedly received very few orders. 

“Most Chinese people think of North Korean restaurants as a special place – somewhere they’ll visit because they’re curious about North Koreans,” Daily NK’s source in China said, adding that there is not a huge demand for North Korean food in China.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.