‘We started with nothing.'
In the previous century, our hotel restaurant was a Chinese restaurant where the happy few came to eat an eggroll for 25 guilders. Now, it is a Van der Valk kitchen and the location is accessible to everyone.
At the exterior, the building is a copy of the imperial palace in the Forbidden City in Peking. In the eighties of the previous century, it was built under commission of the successful entrepreneur Dave Wong. He had raised thirty million guilders to make Oriental Palace one of the top ten hotel restaurants in the world.
An ambitious plan
Wong made no concessions whatsoever with regard to quality. In his restaurant, people would be able to enjoy the Cantonese, Szechuan, Japanese and European cuisine. He appointed seven Cantonese chefs, two chefs from Peking and a chef from Tokyo. ‘The crème de la crème’ Wong said. ‘You’ll be able to get better food here, then in Hong Kong!’.
Wong funded the venture with money flowing out of Hong Kong. The acquisition of the crown colony cast its shadow forward and businessmen were looking for new placed to invest in. Some of them ended up in Breukelen, which was all too happy with this million investment.
And that is how, in the heart of the Great Heart, a fifteen meter high building arose in red, green and gold, with dragons on the walls and a roof with thousands of roof panes imported from Chine. In the garden, visitors could linger on teahouses near ponds, looking out on a Chinese wall. The recently renovated Dutch watermill, next to the palace could (and can) hardly compete.
The company had five stars. The cheapest room was 280 guilders a night, the most expensive room was 750 guilders. Still, the dream was over before it had a chance to begin. After as little as three months, in the spring of 1988, a debt of 7 million euro killed Wong’s dream. The restaurants were extremely popular, but the rooms were empty.
‘My wife and I went to see it once, when they weren’t bankrupt yet’ Pieter Timmers, Valk by marriage and director of Hotel Brukelen says. ‘We were dressed casually and we clearly weren’t welcome. An eggroll cost 25 guilders, meaning that it was only for the happy few.'
Embittered, a trade unionist said at the time: ‘It looked like a wild party and then everything collapsed’. Just after the bankruptcy, it was pure chaos in the hotel. Guests were still enjoying their lunch, as the table they were eating at was taken away by creditors. TV’s, beds, china and closets disappeared before the eyes of the bewildered staff. The disarray was complete.
First, a group of Eastern investors presented itself and when Yab Yum presented itself as buyer, protests arose. Two months later, it was Gerrit van der Valk who paid fourteen million guilders for Oriental Palace. The main plan? To remove the roof!
Directeur Timmers, 25 years later: ‘We had no time and money to do so. We started with nothing. We opened a couple of weeks later and we had to work our butts of for years to pay back the debt. If we would have touched the roof, we would have struck financial disaster.'
Finally, the ‘common people’ were allowed inside. The interest in the curiously looking building was overwhelming, especially after all the publicity on its downfall. ‘A week before the grand opening, my mother in law was vacuuming the lobby. Some people were peeking inside, and she didn’t want to leave them outside. Before we know it, there were 200 people inside’ Timmers says.
He will never see those early days again. ‘People parked their car on the emergency lane of the A2. They had to wait an hour and a half to 2 hours before their turn was up and then they had to wait an hour for their food. They didn’t mind. We even had to deploy staff from our German establishment. Some guests would complain that it reminded them of the war.'
Nowadays, the dim sum has largely been replaced by tournedos stroganoff. And the exotic exterior is in stark contrast to the Dutch sociability of the interior. What remains, is the building. ‘That is solid’ says Timmers. ‘It is very well built. If I ever had to build a hotel restaurant, this is how I would to it.'
In the summer of 2010, we started construction of an entirely new wing. It was commissioned in December 2011. We are very proud of it! No less than 86 luxury hotel rooms, 6 suites with sauna, steam bath and whirlpool, plus a wellness with pool, sauna facilities, beauty parlor and state of the art fitness facility.