Hello Kitty fans might be the world’s most spoiled travelers as the tourism industry seems determined to build a complete service chain out of that five-apple-tall bobtail cat.
Taiwan’s Eva Air flies a fleet of five Hello Kitty airplanes. Dubai houses a posh Hello Kitty spa. Anji, a county some 220 kilometers southwest of Shanghai, is building a $200 million Hello Kitty theme park (scheduled to open in 2014).
And in Beijing, a Hello Kitty-themed restaurant is creating a lot of buzz.
‘Couples come here to propose’
Located in an upmarket shopping mall in Sanlitun, Hello Kitty Dreams opened its doors to much fanfare in December last year.
According to the restaurant’s staff, the Sanrio-licensed business is the first Hello Kitty-themed restaurant in Asia.
“When we first opened you had to book days in advance,” says restaurant manager Ted Chen. “We were packed from when we opened at 11 a.m. everyday.”
Couples make up a large part of the restaurant’s clientele.
“The most exciting thing is when couples come here to propose,” says Chen. “Men think that this will be a memorable place for the proposal, and so far all the women have said yes.”
Singer and actress Sarah Wang is the CEO of the restaurant. Wang, only 25, said in an earlier interview that Hello Kitty Dreams is targeting female customers ages 15 to 35.
The restaurant seats approximately 70 people and is bursting with Hello Kitty paraphernalia.
There is a Hello Kitty sink and mirror, pink cat-shaped dining booths, and toys are arranged on every surface with a huge, multi-tiered pyramid of stuffed animals at the restaurant’s entrance.
Waiter Wang Bing has been working at the restaurant since its grand opening.
“I had other options for work, but I chose this job because I find Hello Kitty really interesting,” he says. “My friends don’t think it’s weird that I’m a guy and work here. They know it’s just my job.”
One of the diners at the restaurant is Cao Ning, a 36-year-old male international trade manager.
“I take my female colleagues here for lunch sometimes because I know they grew up with Hello Kitty and still enjoy it,” he says.
It looks like he’s right: His three female fellow diners, in their 20s, collapse into fits of child-like giggles, admitting they still buy Hello Kitty souvenirs, such as mobile phone cases and cosmetic bags.
The menu at the Hello Kitty restaurant is an eclectic mix of both Asian and Western fare, featuring roasted meats, soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, fried rice and curries.
One waiter recommends the cheese baked chicken chop with sides of pasta, French fries, and vegetables molded in the shape of Kitty’s face.
But it’s a disappointment — the chicken is gray and stringy, the cheese solidified, and tepid spaghetti sauce tastes like it’s straight from a can.
Secured with cute Hello Kitty toothpicks, the mini burgers aren’t much better, with stale buns and a selection of four bland fillings — beef, chicken, fish, and tomato and mozzarella.
The Hello Kitty Homemade Ice Cream, on the other hand, provides a tasty end to an otherwise terrible meal. A concoction of fluorescent fruit loops and layers of whipped cream, the ice cream is creamy, refreshing, and actually tastes homemade.
The pink-overload restaurant is extremely popular with families, with plenty of toys for sale and an arts and crafts section full of kids.
When 6-year-old girl Jiang Yichen is asked if she has been excited to come, her mother sheepishly admits that it was her idea to bring the family for lunch as she is quite the Hello Kitty fan herself.