This year is the 10th anniversary of Junels Restobar, a Filipino karaoke bar and restaurant in Sai Ying Pun that is a neighborhood favorite. But instead of celebrating, Julia Mangrobang is fighting to keep her business alive.
Earlier this year, Mangrobang learned that she was being evicted in preparation for the building’s planned demolition. Unable to start Junels again from scratch, she thought she would have to return to the Philippines. Now she hopes to open Junels in a new location, with help from her devoted customers.
Mangrobang first came to Hong Kong in 1984 as a domestic helper. Over the years, she also worked at various bars and high-end hotel spas.
She was living above a long-empty retail space in an alley off Water Street, and her landlord encouraged her to start her own business there. Mangrobang put all the money she had into opening Junels, waiting anxiously for three years to turn a profit.
Junels owner Julia Mangrobang with her husband, Alvin
Junels became highly popular with the Filipino community, as well as expats and people in the F&B industry who needed a place to go late at night after work.
Gilbert Causing, a Filipino clerk at a law firm who is friends with Mangrobang and has been going to Junels since it opened, described it as a convenient and family-friendly place to celebrate birthdays and other occasions. It is like a “second home” for domestic helpers, he said, especially on their Sundays off.
Junels also draws people with the authenticity of its food, serving generous helpings of chicken adobo, pancit noodles and sinigang soup at affordable prices.
And then of course there’s the singing. Rather than renting private rooms, groups of customers at Junelsshare one large room and pass the microphones around as their turn comes up, making their musical choices from thick catalogs of songs in English, Chinese and Tagalog.
Alison Tan, a graphic designer who has lived in Hong Kong for six years, said she liked that Junels was less expensive and pretentious than the big karaoke chains.
“It’s kind of like this beloved hidden gem in Sai Ying Pun, and I felt really lucky to be introduced to it,” she said.
Anver Moxey, a personal trainer from the Bahamas who goes to Junels about twice a month, said customers were drawn there by the hospitality.
“There’s no other place like Junels,” he said. “I’ve been to several other karaoke bars, and the warmness isn’t there. Junels is more of a family, I would say, than anything else. If you come maybe two or three times, everybody knows your name.”
“There’s no other place like Junels,” said customer Anver Moxey
Moxey said it was also a place that welcomed everyone no matter where they were from.
“I think it’s definitely bridging the gaps between cultures,” he said.
Tan and others are organizing a fundraiser for Saturday, July 27, right before Mangrobang is set to be evicted.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Tan said. “I just couldn’t imagine a place like that disappearing from the community.”
The hope is to raise enough money for Mangrobang to move Junels to a suitable space she has already found around the corner from its current location.
Mangrobang has been moved by the outpouring of support from her customers.
“I really don’t expect that somebody will help me like this,” said Mangrobang, whose business helps support her 10 grandchildren. “I was so blessed I cannot say anything.”
More information about the fundraiser can be found on its Facebook page. The organizers are also appealing for donated goods and services from engineers, interior designers, suppliers, sponsors and media specialists; email firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help.