The past year has been a difficult one for the entire dining industry, but perhaps no group has been more deeply affected than the owners of Asian restaurants. As soon as a mysterious virus was known to have originated in Wuhan, China, Chinatowns across the country began to see a steep decline in sales, as many people falsely blamed Asian-Americans for the pandemic. According to one widely circulated statistic, 59 percent of mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants have closed during the past year. And in recent weeks, a troubling trend of violence toward Asian-Americans has only made the situation worse. Now more than ever, Asian restaurants in Seattle and other cities need your help to ensure they’re able to weather the current storm.
“Chinatown is in trouble. What’s at stake right now is the survival of Chinatown,” cookbook author Grace Young, who’s known as the Stir-Fry Guru, said on a recent episode of the Special Sauce podcast. In October, Young partnered with the Beard Foundation and several well-known chefs and cookbook authors to launch a social media campaign devoted to saving Chinese restaurants.
Over the past year, at least 17 restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown have permanently shut down, according to the New York Times, including Jing Fong, a mainstay of the neighborhood that had been in operation since 1978. In San Francisco, Eastern Bakery, the oldest bakery in Chinatown, reported a 70 percent drop in sales during one of its busiest times of year, according to the Washington Post. Nearby, the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is baking at least 40 percent fewer fortune cookies than they would on a normal day. Young explained that Chinatowns in these cities and others are dependent on tourism and office workers, both of which have declined dramatically during the pandemic.
But the challenges faced by Chinese restaurants aren’t limited to reduced foot traffic. Recent incidents of racism against Asian restaurant workers have exacerbated the problem in several cities. Jason Wang, the CEO of Xi’an Famous Foods, a chain with eight locations in the New York metropolitan area, told the New York Times that two of his employees were punched in the face, unprovoked, on their way to or from work. Wang said that he’s decided to close his restaurants earlier in the evening than he used to, in order to ensure his employees’ safety. And in San Antonio, Noodle Tree restaurant was vandalized with racist messages this week, a few days after its owner gave an interview on CNN criticizing Texas governor Greg Abbott for lifting the state’s mask requirement.
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I’m not aware of any specific incidents of racism against Asian restaurants in Seattle. But Asian-Americans including former governor Gary Locke marched last weekend to decry recent acts of violence in the city. One Japanese-American woman and her boyfriend were beaten in the International District in late February. Prosecutors said it was a “vicious and unprovoked attack,” although they did not classify it as a hate crime.
However, in a new national study released this week based upon police department statistics, the number of anti-Asian hate crimes was reported to have risen by nearly 150% in 2020. And though the perpetrator of yesterday’s shootings in Atlanta that targeted Asian massage parlors claims the acts weren’t racially motivated, they’re more evidence that the trend of violence against Asian Americans has continued into 2021.
A good way to show your support for the Asian-American community in the face of all this racism and violence is to spend your dining dollars at Asian restaurants in Seattle. Some of my favorites include Seven Stars Pepper in the International District, Pho Cyclo, with multiple locations around the Seattle area, and Pop Pop Thai Street Food in North Seattle. Whichever type of Asian food you pick, and whether you choose to visit a restaurant in Chinatown or in your local neighborhood, you’ll know that you’re doing some good for a community that deserves your patronage.
Which Asian restaurants in Seattle would you like to support? Leave a comment and let me know!
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What I Ate: Cumin lamb from Chef King in Greenwood