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The future is a particularly important issue for immigrants. The future is comprehensive for every immigrant family. The past has been severed and the future is a gamble that has been paid out in full. In the era of the coronavirus pandemic, the question of reopening isn't the question: "Will I succeed?" It is a vow: "I have to succeed or otherwise." The steeliness of this hope drives you through the crisis.
Chinese restaurant owners need to double this determination: while restaurants across the country have lost business due to closures, Chinese restaurants have been hardest hit. A study conducted by data subscription service Womply in April found that more than half of them had stopped making debit and credit card transactions during the pandemic, indicating closed deals – more than any other type of facility (the closest closed is the sandwich- and delicacy concept) at 23%). According to Yelp data, half of the worst days for finding Chinese restaurants in the United States occurred last year since the corona virus broke out. At the height of the pandemic, most Chinese restaurants in New York City had shut down, according to the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation. While small businesses everywhere struggled to get SBA loans, many Chinese restaurants are not even nearby to receive such help.
Chinese restaurants saw a significant decline in customers even before the closure. Racism certainly played a role: some restaurants were discriminated against by consumers who wrongly guard against the spread of the corona virus by Chinese food in the United States. Others were the subject of racist graffiti and broken windows.
Many restaurants also had problems because some Chinese-Americans, who made up the majority of their customers, started avoiding restaurants in January when they heard about the corona virus from the family in China and were afraid of large gatherings. "Restaurants that primarily had Chinese customers were hit hard," said Larry La, owner of Meiwah in Chevy Chase, Md., Referring to cities in Rockville and Silver Spring, cities with large Chinese populations.
If the dining rooms are emptied and the restaurants are converted to delivery and take-out models, you can assume that Chinese corner restaurants will be ahead of the game. After all, Chinese food is often synonymous with takeaway food. But these restaurants in particular have problems.
The thing is, Chinese restaurants in America have disappeared for a while. Yelp data in 2019 showed that the number of Chinese restaurants in the country's top 20 cities has been steadily declining. From 2014 to 2018 there was a nationwide decline of 7%. Part of it is a generation change – the children who do their homework behind the counter have grown up and do not want or need to take over the family business. "The goal is not to return to the restaurant because the restaurant is (a) a crutch to get (immigrants) through society," said Wilson Tang, owner of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor in New York's Chinatown.
Old-school Chinese restaurants – the mom-and-pop stores that are shaped by General Tso's chicken, take-away plastic bags, and lazy Susans – were used to place orders over the phone, not through tech-savvy solutions that were sped up by social networking. They may be less used for third-party apps like Grubhub or Uber Eats. They may be less likely to be well represented on social media.
The blow to Chinese restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic is less a sudden blow than the result of years of pomp.
Let's get the worst-case scenario out of the way: Chinese restaurants in America won't die out. They are used to existential threats – in fact, they have developed well in the United States. After the Chinese expulsion law, a moratorium on migrant workers from China, was passed in 1882, one of the few ways that Chinese workers could still enter the country was the "trading status" of a restaurant owner. Waves of immigrants were redirected to the restaurant business as the only livelihood option. "Chinese restaurants keep popping up and surviving," says writer Jennifer 8 Lee. "You can survive nuclear disasters. If (places) can support life, they can support Chinese restaurants – that's a mindset. "
But to survive, they have to adapt.
Preparation for reopening
The Nom Wah Tea Parlor is Manhattan's oldest Chinese restaurant from 1920. As a tourist destination, it has lost many guests due to travel stops. Of the four locations, only the Nolita location is open during the city's closure and is only available for take away. Frozen dim sum was sold.
Nom Wah has existed for a century and Tang is looking forward to years to come. The restaurant is already preparing to reopen. It has secured infrared thermometers for the front of the house that customers can use to check. It has masks and gloves for the staff in stock. Nom Wah is also considering home experience, such as offering dumpling tutorials. It is being spoken to with the city's Department of Transportation to potentially open Doyers Street in the heart of Chinatown so customers can dine outside at a social distance. Nom Wah even thinks about providing branded bags for customers to put their face masks in while eating.
Wilson Tang is the owner of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Manhattan's Chinatown.Natalie Chitwood / Photo
"These are small steps we want to take, but none of them are bulletproof," Tang says. They are difficult to grasp because "the main goal of a restaurant is to get people together and have fun," he says. These measures are not intuitive.
Brandon Jew, the chef and owner of Mister Jiu in San Francisco, does the same. "We have to limit the interactions, but also be hospitable. It's a really fine line. The restaurants that are good in between are likely to be successful," he says. "I don't think people should expect great hospitality until." this has been resolved. Until we make recommendations, tell them about farm food, or can tell them that this pairing will be great, everything will be a very orchestrated, very planned experience. "
Mr. Jiu expects half occupancy. It will go from a restaurant with 100 seats and a lounge with 65 seats to a restaurant with 45 seats and a lounge with “space in the air”, says Jude.
The restaurants that manage to reopen have to rely on technology. Mr. Jiu will try to pay contactless and will allow groceries to be ordered in advance. The restaurant currently uses Tock, a reservation platform. According to La, Meiwah, which has been in use at various locations for 20 years, is now using Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash. "So we don't have to prepare much. Just make sure the computer works, the phone works, that was it," he says.
Restaurants need to be familiar with digital payments and socially savvy to succeed at socially distant reopening. Many Chinese restaurants that meet this bill do not belong to immigrants, but to their children, as is the case with Tang and Jews. They don't run out of financial necessity, but love food and heritage. Many of them tend towards regional foods or rely on culinary creativity. Some of them, like Mister Jiu & # 39; s, a Michelin star that appeared in San Francisco's restaurant scene a few years ago, are considered fine dining like their predecessors never were.
These deals appear to be OK, but even Mr. Jiu's are not clear. "The number of restaurants that can survive afterwards – it will really surprise people, unfortunately in a bad way," says Jude. "There will be many closings."
La says: "It will be a long time before we are back where we were. Maybe three or four months? We do not know it. An unpredictable second wave could bring many businesses to a standstill. "
Even if they get the green light to reopen fully, restaurateurs Fortune said their restaurants couldn't. "It depends on the comfort of the staff," says Tang. Many of his employees are older people, but many of the younger people also live in multi-generation households, with parents or grandparents, and are reluctant to go to work. “Bringing the virus home is a problem.
"Customers still wouldn't have full confidence in eating, blocking or not," he continues. "We'll have to weather the storm for the next year and a half or two when a new vaccine comes out. For the foreseeable future it's cloudy. We can only take it one day at a time and hope for the best."
Tang believes Nom Wah can afford to keep its locations closed for a few more months. He says they're lucky because the rooms are family owned themselves and they don't have to worry about renting.
La also believes that a few months are manageable – although he originally thought that Meiwah would only have to be closed for two weeks. But longer than that, especially when restaurants have to close by September in the event of a second wave of outbreaks? "It's just unthinkable at the moment."
Larry La is the owner of Meiwah in Chevy Chase, Md. Courtesy of Larry La
If even the relatively wealthy restaurants stumble, mom and pop shops, many of which are immigrant-owned and cash-only, are in real danger. Those who are run and served by low-income communities are the most vulnerable.
Doing business purely as cash, as many old-school Chinese restaurants do, is preventing these small businesses from using the aid as part of the federal stimulus package. "That's the problem," said Tang. "Many places will fail because they cannot get PPP or FDA loans because they have operated under the radar over the years."
For a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, a company must have good documentation, enough employees and a relationship with a bank. "Everything about this program is difficult for Chinese mom and pop restaurants," says writer Jennifer 8 Lee. For example, many Chinese restaurants offer housing and food at a cost that is not reflected in employee salaries. "It hurts a lot."
Coronavirus shrinkage in small Chinese restaurants is exacerbated by a major problem. "Chinese restaurants are a function of Chinese immigration," notes Lee. The Trump administration's strict stance on immigrants, including those from China, could hamper the influx of immigrants opening new restaurants: "It is not the best time to be an immigrant from China or an immigrant in general."
The coronavirus pandemic casts a double shadow on Chinese restaurants: the specter of losing business and the fear of anti-Chinese discrimination.
"Based on the President's comments and some people's opinions of what they hear, I think the Chinese community as a whole and Chinese cuisine have another layer of complications or hurdles to try to get over it," said Jude . "I just … It kind of makes me angry because it just isn't needed. There is already so much."
The majority of Nom Wah employees live in the Sunset Park and Bensonhurst areas of Brooklyn. It takes over an hour to commute to Chinatown. According to Tang, Nom Wah employees fear going to work because of the virus and possible racism they may experience on the subway. He cites reports of verbal abuse, harassment and even abuse that took place during the height of the pandemic. "There is a chat group for cooks in Chinatown," says Tang, in which his employees exchange news. Some of the information may be exaggerated or misleading, but the news of racist attacks has "increased stress for good or for bad".
Tang expects anti-Chinese discrimination to continue after the ban, which low-income immigrants are most vulnerable to. "It took us so long as a culture to move forward. This one pandemic really threw us back as a culture," he says.
“People could get upset about what happened that they had to stay at home, and they could blame the Chinese. You could also carry that to Chinese restaurants or Chinese food, ”says La. "So the future of Chinese restaurants in general will be very difficult."
Jude sees it as a rally to reopen. "It's something I'm concerned with, but it's also part of what motivates me to reopen," he says. "If people really don't come to Chinatown, I want to experience it so I can tell people it's bullshit."
Many Chinese restaurants employ people with or without a majority of immigrants. When a Chinese restaurant has to fight and close, an entire community of immigrants has to face financial precariousness at the same time. Jude employs some undocumented workers, including a prep cook who has worked with him for almost 10 years.
On the other hand, according to restaurateurs, this makeup by immigrants could be the reason why a restaurant survives the pandemic better. "Typically for first-generation immigrants, they are very economical," says Tang, referring to his older employees. "You save money."
"Immigrants, we usually save money on the rainy day," says La, himself an immigrant, about the well-being of his employees. "We don't just use all the pennies we deserve. I think that helped too."
Chinese cuisine doesn't go anywhere
Even though these restaurateurs are stressed out about their businesses, they expect Americans to still have an appetite for Chinese food. "I believe in Chinese cuisine," says Jude. "I know no matter what happens, people will crave this food and its flavors, and I still have a strong feeling for this kitchen as a whole."
Brandon Jew is the owner and chef of Mister Jiu in San Francisco. Courtesy of Brandon Jew
"Even if restaurants suffer, the American taste for Chinese food doesn't decrease," says Lee. Although small Chinese restaurants have had problems since before the pandemic, grubhub data from a few years ago showed that General Tso's chicken was one of the five most frequently ordered dishes on the app.
While Chinese restaurants have suffered from the panic of the corona virus, many of the lost customers were Chinese and American themselves. "I don't think white people stay away from COVID (from Chinese restaurants)," Lee says. "It's so American for them."
There are more Chinese restaurants in the country than McDonalds, as the cliché says, and Chinese food itself is "more American than apple pie," as Lee wrote in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. (She asks the reader: How often do you eat Chinese takeaway food against apple pie?)
"People understood Chinese cuisine better because they were traveling and interested in different regions of China and learned more about the Chinese palate and some of the flavors, and that comes down to really appreciating the cuisine," says Jude . Mister Jiu is definitely not a mom and pop shop. This is one of many examples of the increasing definition of Chinese food in America. "We have been really lucky in recent years because there has been a surge in interest in Chinese cuisine," he says.
During the pandemic, despite the general decline in business with Chinese restaurants, an interesting trend has proven the popularity of the next generation of kitchen suppliers: some online pantries selling Chinese ingredients, such as Xi & # 39; an available chilli oil Famous Foods have enjoyed doing blockbuster sales. Jude recently launched a food concept where customers can order pre-made meals, alcohol, and favorites like organic eggs, Japanese vinegars, braised pork, and lap cheong.
So he and the others hope that the Americans have the classic dream of family dinners at lacquered round tables, lunch buffets piled with crab legs and fried bananas, a hasty break on the way back to the office, and continue late – night to go, plentiful and warm. And the wilder dream of Lap Cheong, filled with roasted quail and Tomalley-decorated Dungeness crab rice porridge. They hope after the pandemic, the dream of Chinese food in America, and the permanent possibility, even if it is at risk for a short time, will continue.
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