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"A penny for your thoughts"

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Toilet Bowl Restaurant

A toilet-themed restaurant is proving a huge draw for customers in Taiwan, eager to eat food off plates and bowls shaped like western loo seats and Japanese "squat" toilets. Probably not the best place to bring a child in potty training...

"The restaurant was so popular among Taiwanese diners, young and old, that the owners opened up a second joint in what they hope will become an islandwide chain, with some franchises eventually in Hong Kong and Japan."

Marton Theme Restaurant, named after the Chinese word "Matong" for toilet, has become a hit in Taiwan's second largest city since its opening in May 2004. 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 ($6 - $10) 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 colorful 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 for $30 dollars each ($1.20) - 5 to 10 dollars higher than a regular one. 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.

Toilet Bowl
Taipei Metro, Hsinpu Station, Exit 1
(02) 8253-7767

Direction: Taipei Metro : Hsinpu Station Exit 1
(02) 8253-7767
Business hours: 10am -11 pm (except for Saturday and Sunday open until 12am)

Ice cream cups cash in on Toilet Bowl

"Now comes eyewitness news of a small operation in one of south Taiwan's night markets in Chiayi City, where a pretty woman runs a "squat toilet cup ice cream" dispenser on one of the main shopping streets in town. Passersby have their choice of chocolate or vanilla soft ice cream that is dispensed into light-green squat toilet-shaped plastic cups, seen here, all for a very affordable NT$25, which comes to about 75 cents in American money."

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