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Asian-American business owners are fighting the epidemic on two fronts and searching for the answers at the same time


April 9, 2021

10 minutes of reading


In 2005, Jason Wang’s father founded Famous food Xi’an in Flushing, which has since grown to become one of the largest satellite Chinatown in New York City. The task is simple: Wang’s father will promote the food he once knew in Central China, especially since the Chinese food in America appears to be just a casual version of Cantonese cuisine. .

“He simply wanted to make a small life for himself by sharing his food with people who would enjoy it, and at the time, he thought only Chinese immigrants like He just got it, ”Wang said of his father.

Over time, the store’s success – in no small part due to the arrival of the late Anthony Bourdain – led to the expansion. Seven other chains have opened in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Along the way, the restaurant received rave reviews, even received a brilliant rating in Zagat for its “faintly” hand-drawn noodles and lamb sandwiches as “extremely delicious”.

Related: Asian-American business leaders and figures publicly denounce the Atlanta shootings, condemning ‘intentional’ attacks

However, last year, operations stalled. As pandemic Taking shape in the US, restaurants and bars were forced to shut down indoor dining. While many people struggle to stay alive, perhaps no business has been more affected by the global health crisis than Asian-owned businesses. These entities not only suffered financial losses but were also unjustly discriminated against as carriers of Covid-19. In the weeks after news of a boom in Wuhan, China, Asian-owned businesses across the country – especially in America – began to feel the effects of the xenophobia and Racism is on the rise. From February 2020 to April 2020, about 233,000 Asian-owned small businesses in the country closed down, according to one UCLA study. By April of that year, half of the country’s Chinese restaurants were closed “due to prejudice and consumer misconceptions”. Restaurant Business Magazine extra notes.

“We closed all stores in March 2020 due to Covid and did not reopen some stores until around July 2020,” said Wang.

And just as Wang was aware of the growing violence and hatred towards the Asian American community and Pacific island nations, it didn’t happen until his two employees. assaulted in the summer of 2020. According to Wang, both incidents occurred. Near public transport – one employee is attacked on the way to work, while another is attacked on the way home.

“My immediate response is to first make sure that my staff is okay [I was] I feel pretty powerless because I can’t really do much to prevent this kind of thing from happening, ”Wang said.

“I was reluctant to speak up about that and I’m still a bit reluctant these days, especially as we’re seeing more and more attacks despite the heightened awareness, which makes me believe more imitation attack. “

As a result, the CEO of Xi’an Famous Foods, like many other Asian store owners, was forced to adjust his business to account for the growing hatred.

“We have shortened our business hours to close earlier (8:30 pm for all stores, instead of 9:30 pm or 10:30 pm for previous stores) and also opted to close door on Sunday, because there are few people around due to few people working [and] less potential [of] Help in case anything bad happens, ”he said.

Businesses in Chinatown have struggled to recover amid rising violence

Nowhere is the effect of racism more pronounced than in Manhattan’s Chinatown, a once-bustling neighborhood that regularly attracts tourists from all over the world. In the weeks leading up to the outbreak in the United States, a marked drop in pedestrian traffic significantly affected restaurants in the area, with many relying on outsiders to survive. As of writing this article, about 17 restaurants and 139 ground floor stores – including Jing Fong Restaurant in Chinatown – have closed permanently, Wellington Chen, CEO of Chinatown Business Improving Zones / Counter Partners told The New York Times in an interview last month.

At the same time, local people in the area were attacked randomly. In March, a 66-year-old Asian man was punched in the face by an unknown man the person supposedly scolded him. Last month, a 36-year-old Asian man was was stabbed in Chinatown while passing in federal court. The economic impact, combined with an increase in physical violence, has made it difficult for Asian-owned businesses.

Barbara Leung, who oversees operations and marketing at Nom Wah Teahouse (has been doing business in Chinatown since 1920 and has opened locations in the surrounding areas). “I mean if you look at our Nolita store, that’s true of SoHo, the business is stable there – so not that people don’t eat Chinese food, but rather, they don’t to the neighborhood. ”

Leung added that Nom Wah’s flagship store in Chinatown has experienced a 70% to 80% decline in sales year-on-year since the pandemic. The restaurant is also required to take precautions to ensure all of its employees are safe, no matter where they work.

“We listen to our employees to make sure they know we’re here for them,” said Leung. “With the Nolita outpost, we can carpool home or make sure the staff is watching through the buddy system. And for the Chinatown restaurant that’s evident during our business hours – we open at noon, when the streets are a bit more bustling and we close at 8pm to make sure everything people who don’t go home too late ”.

Faced with the challenges, Asian-owned businesses, especially in Manhattan’s Chinatown, tried to support each other.

“We see this especially in the small businesses we’ve partnered with; they think not only of themselves and their happiness but also the happiness of their neighbors and small business owners, ”said Jennifer Yu-Tam, co-founder of the grassroots organization. Welcome to Chinatown. “And in many ways, this is also why we think Chinatown will survive these difficult times. The neighborhood has faced tough efforts several times in the past (9/11, Hurricane Sandy, are a few examples). However, it still stands up; it is extremely resilient. “

Since its inception last year, Welcome to Chinatown has distributed over $ 225,000 that it has raised to 45 properties. Money comes in during a period of particularly stress. In a survey conducted by the organization, 88% of shopkeepers in the neighborhood revealed that they had a 50% drop in business before New York City closed. This year, in response to the recent headline creation violence – notably The Atlanta shooting killed six Asian women – and slow walking, 84% of respondents added that they, like Wang and Leung, had to reduce working hours.

“I asked myself where would we go from here and how do we, as Asian Americans, go on,” admits Yu-Tam. “The best thing I come up with is to put this fear, anger and anxiety into action by investing even more in the incredible work we’re doing in Welcome to Chinatown, whether it is helping our neighborhood elders secure their COVID vaccination appointments or working with our small businesses to continue amplifying their story ”.

Asian business owners fight for tolerance and acceptance

For Milk and cream cereal bars Cory Ng co-founder, the marginalization of Asian businesses is an ongoing issue that has affected Chinatown. While this neighborhood attracts tourists, it also brings a new wave of young non-Asian residents and business owners who are drawn to Chinatown’s appeal but less attention is paid to its basic story. As a result, this regional bias overshadowed the struggles locals in the area have long faced, especially when xenophobia and racism emerged.

“Chinatown is hot right now,” Ng said. “All the yuppies, they want to come and live in this area. It’s correct? It’s great to go to a damn Chinatown underground bar or a karaoke bar in Chinatown, and they’re like ‘Oh, that’s great.’ But [for] us, it’s not like that. It doesn’t look like this fun and trendy thing to do. We did it because this is what we do [had to do.] These are our businesses ”.

The fact that Chinatown – once a bustling tourist destination and the inspiration for many businesses outside of Asia (including Chinatown Market) – becomes a ghost town in the midst of today’s pandemic is an irony. never lost to Ng.

“You know, a lot of our work [have been] lost, ”he said. “Our community is frightened. Chinatown holds everyone’s feet with food, culture and joy… you come to us for that. So I thought it was weird that we did [the pandemic] longest and we’re still feeling it now. ”

In the fight for acceptance, a number of Asian-owned businesses are turning violence into an incomparable passion for educating the public further.

“Seeing racism and xenophobia take place over the past year has made us reflect more of our identity as Asian American and as an American business. of Asian descent, ”said Cindy Ongko, one of the founders The Kitsby Asia-inspired dessert counter (located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn), said. “When we first started our business, we were really afraid of being ‘too Asian’, that the use of exotic flavors … would not be of interest to some. But with all that happened, we feel that if anything these flavors are at the core of who we are as Kitsby and as the people behind Kitsby. “

Driven by a stronger cause, Kitsby also recently hosted a contest featuring Asian American bakers to help promote their businesses.

“The best we can do right now is buy from other Asian-American bakers around us – local bakers don’t necessarily have the means or facilities to create products that they really stand out from and show off their community, ”said co-founder Amy Hsiao.

The same, similar, Golden HouseA group that empowers Asian-American businesses is responding to the Atlanta shooting by expanding the Golden Rush acceleration program and connecting Asian-American businesswomen with entrepreneurs. Top venture capitalists to invest.

“In that time API [Asian Pacific Islander] Julia Gouw, a Gold House partner and president of Piermont Bank, said: a press release.

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