NEW YORK — A Chinese tycoon served up a fancy lunch Wednesday to homeless New Yorkers at a Central Park restaurant, but caught grief from attendees expecting cash.
Recycling magnate Chen Guangbiao selected a menu of sesame-seed-encrusted tuna, beef filet and berries with crème fraiche at The Loeb Boathouse restaurant for more than 200 residents of the New York City Rescue Mission, the nation's oldest shelter. He even serenaded them with a rendition of We Are the World and did some magic tricks.
Dozens of volunteer waiters sported green uniforms similar to those once worn by soldiers in China's People's Liberation Army, bearing the words "Serve the People."
"I'm looking forward to a good time and a good meal," said Antone Hills, a shelter resident. "I think he's a good guy and he's helping our country."
Wads of cash filled wire baskets at the restaurant, with Chen waving some of the money in front of the guests. But when they discovered that they in fact would not be given any money, an uproar ensued, with some yelling, "We want it now!"
Shelter officials urged Chen not to give cash to the group because many are being treated for addictions and the money could be better used for their programs.
Others waiting outside, unable to get in because they weren't registered, booed and cursed Chen, yelling "liar" and "con man."
Chen said he wants to disprove the image of rich Chinese spending money on luxuries.
"I was not born into a rich family or a family of government officials. When I was 4 years old my brother and sister died of hunger, so I achieved my success through confidence, self-motivation and my hard work," Chen said in Chinese in an interview on CBS This Morning.
His worth is estimated at $750 million.
"Our thought was if someone wants to treat them to an amazing event — something they would never experience on their own, maybe even a kernel of hope that life could be different again, we're in for that reason," said the shelter's executive director, Craig Mayes.
But Chen's American ambitions surpass philanthropy.
Earlier this year, the 46-year-old businessman wanted to buy The New York Times. Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., said the newspaper was not for sale.
To announce the lunch, Chen placed ads in the Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Chen has been deemed eccentric from his theatrical antics.
To protest air pollution in Beijing, he stood on a street corner handing out cans marked "Fresh Air." Chen also rushed to the scene of a massive earthquake in Sichuan and handed out cash to victims. On Tuesday in New York City, he was on the street offering $100 bills to anyone who looked like they needed money. His English language business card reads: "MOST CHARASMATIC PHILANTHROPIST OF CHINA."