The largest of North Korea’s overseas restaurants has closed, and its workers have gone home, reports Daily NK. Those formerly employed in North Korea’s overseas joint ventures abroad, and as overseas labor with other companies, have been returning home in stages since sanctions passed by the UNSC last September forbade joint ventures with North Korea.
These restaurants are (were?) an interesting phenomenon. I’ve visited them in Vietnam, Cambodia, and China, and the last time I went to one was in 2013. At the time, it was packed with tourists, mostly from South Korea, and some locals. This was generally my experience with these restaurants from the first time I visited one in 2008, but of course I can’t say for sure whether that impression was representative of a general picture.
The last time I went to one was in 2016, in Beijing. On a regular Saturday night, the place was virtually empty, save for a couple of middle-aged men donning Kim Il-sung badges, drinking beer and chain smoking. Our party got our own room, complete with karaoke, even though we didn’t ask for one, simply because the place was so empty. I got a hint about what the reasons might have been earlier in the day when I called to make a reservation: since I spoke to the staff in Korean, they felt obligated to inform me that customers from South Korea were no longer welcome. This business-killing restriction was likely imposed after the mass defection to South Korea, from one of the restaurants earlier that year. For what it’s worth, this particular one – in central Beijing – seemed like a dying endeavor over a year before the sanctions, though one can’t generalize from just one data point.