Chinese actor Zheng Kai (left) and South Korean singer Gary star in the fourth season of the Chinese version of South Korean show Running Man.Photo: CFP

Huofengxiang, a hot pot franchise owned by popular Chinese entertainer Zheng Kai, issued an official apology late Saturday night addressing a “quality issue” involving poor hygiene and spoiled food at his restaurants. 

The apology came after a vlogger on Friday posted an undercover footage of one of Zheng’s hot pot restaurant branches on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo. 

The video showed employees reusing leftovers from customers and serving diners spoiled ingredients. 

Other more disgusting details such as goose intestines – a popular ingredient in hot pot – still filled with excrement being served to customers sparked the anger of netizens on social media and putting Zheng right smack into the middle of controversy.

Some of Zheng’s fans expressed disappointment in the star, while others said that the incident has considerably lowered their trust in restaurants backed by celebrities. 

“I’ve tried almost every Beijing branch of Huofengxiang because I’m Zheng’s fan and his personality on TV made me trust him. Even though I’ve not experienced any poor quality foods in his restaurant myself, this is so disappointing, even more disappointing than the design plagiarism thing,” Liang, a fan of the star, told the Global Times, mentioning another incident involving Zheng’s restaurant in which another restaurant accused the company of plagiarizing its interior design and brand style. 

“I found a tiny bug in the soup base last time. I just instinctively don’t trust these types of restaurants anymore. They’re too hyped-up and expensive,” posted one netizen on Sina Weibo. 

On late Saturday night, the restaurant issued an official apology on Sina Weibo. In addition to mentioning that the location in the video would remain closed until any issues were addressed, it also emphasized that Huofengxiang is a “young business” that knows “there is a social responsibility associated with restaurants run by celebrities.” 

The restaurant’s apology became a trending topic on Sina Weibo, earning more than 200 million views. Some netizens expressed a growing loathing toward stars who claim they understand “social responsibility” but focus more on using their fame to entice customers than improve the quality of their products. 

“Not every restaurant owner really loves his career. Those stars, I bet they just treat themselves as a money machine. I’d be devastated if my restaurant got such a poor reputation, because I have my heart in it,” Zhang Feining, a restaurant owner in Chengdu, told the Global Times. 

Other netizens also called for stars to better fulfill their social responsibilities when carrying out a side business. 

Other “star restaurants” have had similar issues, such as coliform bacteria being detected at a restaurant owned by singer Xue Zhiqian in 2020.

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