NEW YORK — A Chinese tycoon served up a fancy lunch Wednesday to hundreds of homeless New Yorkers at a Central Park restaurant, but caught grief from attendees who were expecting cash at the end of the meal.
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 the residents of a Manhattan shelter. He regaled his 250 guests by singing "We are the World" and performed magic tricks at the event, on which he partnered with the New York City Rescue Mission, the oldest shelter in the nation.
About three dozen 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." They were dishing up food to a mostly male group of attendees.
"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, clipped together, filled wire baskets at the restaurant, with Chen holding up some of the money and waving it in front of the guests. But when the attendees discovered that they in fact would not be handed the cash after lunch, an uproar ensued, with some yelling, "We want it now!"
Officials from the Mission shelter urged Chen not to hand out cash to the homeless guests 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 were not registered, booed and cursed Chen, yelling "liar" and "con man."
Chen said he wants to disprove the cliche image of rich Chinese spending money mostly 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."
He then launched into an a cappella rendition of "We are the World."
His worth is estimated $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. That's our motive," 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 containers 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 handing out $100 bills to anyone who looked like they needed money. His English language business card reads: "MOST CHARASMATIC PHILANTHROPIST OF CHINA."