Govt shuts down clas­sic pan­cake stall

60-year-old ven­dor with a dis­abil­ity had sold pop­u­lar food for 13 years

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By ZHOU WENTING in Shang­hai zhouwent­ing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A street ven­dor of spring onion pan­cakes whose pop­u­lar­ity sky­rock­eted be­cause of a fa­vor­able re­view in a BBC doc­u­men­tary has been shut down for op­er­at­ing with­out a li­cense.

It is not ex­pected to re­open un­til the au­thor­i­ties de­cide how to han­dle the mat­ter.

The road­side stall, spe­cial­iz­ing in the tra­di­tional Shang­hai snack — also known as scal­lion pan­cakes — has drawn a huge num­ber of fans who wait ev­ery day to buy them, even lin­ing up be­fore dawn with­out know­ing or car­ing that the owner, Wu Gencheng, can’t get his ex­pired li­cense re­newed.

The com­mer­cial ad­min­is­tra­tion de­part­ment of the city’s Huangpu dis­trict said on Wednes­day that it will dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion with en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion au­thor­i­ties and the neigh­bor­hood com­mit­tee to draw up a so­lu­tion for Wu, who has been mak­ing and sell­ing the snack at his home on the first floor of an old res­i­den­tial build­ing for 13 years.

“No mat­ter how pop­u­lar it is, we can’t give spe­cial priv­i­leges. We’ll help the stall to op­er­ate le­git­i­mately,” the de­part­ment said in a writ­ten state­ment de­liv­ered to China Daily.

Wu, 60, lives with a dis­abil­ity — a se­vere hump­back. He has been mak­ing the pan­cakes since 1982 at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in Shang­hai un­til hemo ved the mi­crobusi­ness back to his home.

Al­though the li­cense could not be re­newed be­cause do­ing busi­ness at a pri­vate res­i­dence is not al­lowed, the tasty pan­cake, de­picted as “de­li­ciously crisp, doughy and very sa­vory” in the BBC doc­u­men­tary broad­cast ear­lier this year, won many peo­ple’s hearts.

“I thought about ap­ply­ing for a busi­ness li­cense, but I knew I’d fail be­cause it was in a res­i­den­tial build­ing,” Wu said.

It’s not the first time Wu’s stall has been at the cen­ter of con­tro­versy. He was or­dered to shut down in July af­ter some­one com­plained of the stall’s kitchen ex­haust and the in­con­ve­nience caused on other res­i­dents in the build­ing.

Other com­pa­nies of­fered to co­op­er­ate with Wu and pro­duce the snack at a le­gal venue, but he re­jected all of them, cit­ing health, rent and other rea­sons.

“I made about 10,000 yuan ($1,500) ev­ery month by sell­ing the pan­cakes,” he said. “But rent for a shop in the area is nearly 30,000 yuan, and I don’t want to work far away from home as I can­not stand it phys­i­cally.”

De­spite be­ing of re­tire­ment age, he said he needed the busi­ness to carry on be­cause it’s the only source of in­come for him and his younger brother, who has a men­tal dis­or­der.

Wu’s story gen­er­ated wide­spread sym­pa­thy among web users, who said bu­reau­cracy was to blame for shut­ting down the pop­u­lar stall over a triv­ial mat­ter like li­cens­ing, not over food safety or other good rea­sons.

Cus­tomers un­aware of the stall’s clo­sure con­tin­ued to come on Wednes­day.

“Lo­cal snacks are usu­ally a name card of a place and the taste of a home­town,” said Zhong Peng, who works nearby and who bought Wu’s pan­cakes reg­u­larly. “But such low­profit busi­nesses are dis­ap­pear­ing in the waves of soar­ing real es­tate prices.”

YIN LIQIN / FOR CHINA DAILY

Wu Gencheng pre­pares spring onion pan­cakes in his stall in Shang­hai on Mon­day.

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