This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.MORE INFO
Menu Close

‘I put heart into everything,’ says Jeff Rotmeyer, founder of not one but two renowned charities, ImpactHK and Love 21Foundation. We’re at Roots — a cosy restaurant located in Wan Chai’s happening Starstreet Precinct. Founded by banker-turned-chef Stephanie Wong, Roots soulfully fuses traditional Cantonese comfort fare with fine French cuisine to create moreish dishes like shrimp toast with salmon roe and salted egg yolk tart.

Cantonese-French fusion restaurant Roots in Wan Chai’s Starstreet Precinct

We order portobello mushroom tartine with sunny-side egg and, for the meat lover in me, the hormone-free flank steak with roasted cauliflower, rocket and carbonara. Since we were discussing roots, I asked how it all began for Jeff and his Hong Kong story. Ironically, Jeff’s first apartment in the city was above this very restaurant. ‘I was actually a footballer from Canada on scholarship in the States,’ he says. ‘That didn’t quite work out, and I ended up teaching in Hong Kong thirteen years ago. I’m actually a goalkeeper.’ As an avid footballer myself, I ask him which team he supports. ‘Liverpool,’ he says proudly. As a die-hard Manchester United fan, I couldn’t possibly go through a whole lunch with him, could I? But fortunately, there’s a lot more to Jeff Rotmeyer than his poor choice of sporting team.

Jeffrey Andrews (left) interviews charity founder Jeff Rotmeyer

Jeff is an award-winning change maker; he single-handedly brought a very local issue of homelessness to the expat and wider Hong Kong community. He reveals that, as a teacher, ‘I’ve been concerned about our city,’ and from this he started evening ‘kindness walks’ through the streets of Sham Shui Po, joined by a mix of expats and locals. He proudly reveals he has had an influx of 4,000 volunteers in two years. Eventually, he quit teaching last year, and inaugurated two charities on the same day: ImpactHK and Love 21.

Avocado Tartine with Salted Egg Yolk Crumble (left) and Portobello Mushroom Cheese Fondue Tartine with Sunny-side Egg (right)

ImpactHK serves and transforms the lives of Hong Kong’s homeless population, and Love 21 Foundation is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of those with Down syndrome through nutrition, physical activity and building confidence. As Jeff spoke to me about his work, out came the next order: delicious avocado tartine and salted egg yolk crumble. Jeff was loving the dish’s playful East-meets-West element. And that in some way represents his story here — an expat from the West hoping to make a difference in the East. ‘ImpactHK started as a charity turning a hopeless situation into a hopeful one, by getting people off the streets,’ he says. ‘We have seven full-time staff all dedicated to providing care and immediate assistance, but most crucially love, attention and someone to talk to. You can’t just provide people a home and expect them to just live. They need that human interaction.’ More broadly, we speak about this being a pressing Hong Kong issue: Jeff hopes to instil hope, which comes from the heart — from love. Can we do more as a world-class city?

Left: Jeff Rotmeyer. Right: US Hormone-free Flank Steak, Roasted Cauliflower, Rocket, Carbonara (bottom) and Seared Prawn Macaroni au Gratin, Rosette Salami, Bottarga, Orange Zest and Ginger (top)

As we looked around in the dining area, I could see what Jeff meant about needing human interaction to have hope. Roots was full when we arrived, and it felt like a melting pot of not only flavours and ingredients, but of people. Just as the food was a fusion between a cha chaan teng and a French bistro, Roots is set by a narrow staircase that gives it the air of a Paris street cafe, but take those stairs and you’re back to downtown Wan Chai via a sitting area where elderly residents gather, just as in many grassroots areas in Hong Kong. We remarked on the vibrant, diverse neighbourhood — part of what makes Hong Kong truly unique.

To us, that mix is refreshing, and it’s the same sensation we felt as we dove into more Cantonese-French desserts. A sweet finish to our lunch, and to our hopes for our beloved Hong Kong.