Taiwanese toilet restaurant draws the crowds

Displaying fancy toilet seats studded with flowers and shells, colorful bathtubs, faucets, mirrors and shower curtains, the well-lit window in the southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung looks like a showroom for a trendy bathroom brand—but it is a restaurant.

Its unusual theme is proving a draw for customers eager to eat food off plates and bowls shaped like Western loo seats as well as Japanese “squat toilets”.

Marton theme restaurant, named after the Chinese word matong (toilet), has become a hit in Taiwan’s second-largest city since its opening in May last year.

Though bathroom decor seems a bizarre way to whet the appetites of diners, the idea has been so successful owner Eric Wang opened a second and bigger branch just seven months later.

“We not only sell food but also laughter. The food is just as good as any restaurant, but we offer additional fun,” says 26-year-old Wang, who gave up a career in banking to launch the business.

“Most customers think the more disgusting and exaggerated [the restaurant is], the funnier the dining experience is,” he says.

The top orders are curry hot pot, curry chicken rice and chocolate ice cream because, well, “they look most like the real thing”, Wang says.

The price ranges from 150 to 250 Taiwan dollars (up to R52) for a meal set including soup and ice cream.

Customers, however, flock to Marton restaurant mainly for its quirky dining wares and interior decor.

“This is such a funny and strange restaurant,” says patron Chen Bi-fang, while sitting atop a colourful toilet seat—the standard chair at the restaurant.

She sits by a table converted from a bathtub with a glass cover while looking at a wall decorated with neon-lit faucets and urinals turned into lamps.

Chen first came to the restaurant after seeing it featured on television and has brought nine co-workers along for lunch on her second visit.

“I think this is the most special restaurant I’ve ever been to. The menu also looks good and I’d like to try more next time,” says newcomer Cheng Hung-chi, who found out the restaurant over the internet and took her mother and brother with her.

They are exactly the kind of customers owner Wang are counting on—drawn by novelty and who return with friends in a city crowded by a wide variety of restaurants.

“Our restaurant is the first and only of its kind in Kaohsiung and that gives us an advantage in the saturated market here. Our major challenge is to lure customers back after the initial fun,” he says.

Other gimmicky restaurants in Taiwan using themes such as a prison, zombies and even China’s Mao Zedong achieved quick success, but folded within a few years after the novelty wore off.

To make sure his investment wouldn’t go down the pan, Wang first tested the water for the toilet food gimmick by peddling ice cream in toilet-shaped cones in street booths four months before opening his restaurant. It was an instant hit as he sold up to 1 000 ice-cream cones daily.

His idea came from a popular Japanese comic featuring a robot doll fond of eating excrement in ice-cream cones.

“The success with ‘toilet ice cream’ was a leap of faith for me to quit the stable but boring banking job and start my business despite strong objections from my family,” he says.

The young entrepreneur is planning to expand his business to other cities on the island though franchising after adding more items to the menu.

“After the curiosity fades, we have to hold on to customers with upgraded food and services,” Wang says.—AFP

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