Asian restaurants, especially Chinese restaurants, across the San Gabriel Valley in the Los Angeles area are reporting significant declines in business as novel coronavirus concerns continue to keep diners away. Many popular restaurants in the area have closed temporarily or even permanently in Southern California’s most populated Asian-American community. The latest affected are Hong Kong-style restaurant Henry’s Cuisine and Cantonese restaurant Top Island Seafood in Alhambra. Both establishments are closed for the next two months due to coronavirus concerns.
Henry’s Cuisine, which has been open since 2015, is a casual cafe known for its affordable breakfast sets. Top Island, which has been open since 2007, was a popular dim sum spot in the morning and an affordable Cantonese seafood restaurant at night. Cantonese/Chaozhou restaurant Seafood Palace in Monterey Park, was a staple in the community, but was forced to close permanently last week.
Although all three restaurants may have been suffering less-than-expected sales prior to the novel coronavirus news hitting San Gabriel Valley, COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation and forced them to close right away, according to a neighboring restaurant owner familiar with the situation who chose not to give their name. The person added, “Owners don’t want to affect employees’ income so they try to stay open as long as they can, but the small mom-and-pops can’t hold on for too long.”
After speaking to dozens of Chinese restaurant owners in the SGV area, they estimate that their businesses are down anywhere between 30 to 75 percent amid the coronavirus outbreak, which originated in Wuhan, China, and has since spread across the globe.
”The business right now is so slow,” said one restaurateur. “Before [the outbreak] it was very busy”, echoed another.
The owners reiterated over and over they believe that concerns over the novel coronavirus spreading across the U.S. have turned people against Chinese restaurants and Chinese-owned businesses.
Arthur Tang, who owns two restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, Malubianbian and Chengdu Impression, says his overall business has been down at least 70 percent. “Before, our wait time to get in was two plus hours, and now it’s basically all walk-in,” said Tang. In response to the panic, his restaurants are sterilized daily to ease concerns.
“We do body check temperature on every customer to make sure every store is healthy. We’ve also been giving discounts to encourage diners to come in,” says Tang.
Not only are diners are staying away, some restaurants are struggling to get certain ingredients and supplies in from China because many factories are still closed. China mandated factory shutdowns across the country last month extending the annual two week Lunar New Year holiday. Although many of those restrictions have now been removed, leading to a slow return to work for people, many major manufacturers remain closed.
A representative from Bistro Na’s, the only Michelin-star Chinese restaurant in Southern California, says business has been reduced by 30 to 40 percent. She says going forward, their focus will be on delivery. The representative also noted that they have had problems with importing tea leaves from China. Chef Tiantian Qiu, who owns Sichuan restaurants Hip Hop in Monterey Park and Mala Town in Sawtelle Japantown, has been having issues importing peppercorn and other unique spices in from China for her dishes.
Though restaurants seem to have seen a significant decline in sales, supermarkets like 99 Ranch and 168 Market are doing extremely well since more people are choosing to cook and stay in, according to some restaurant owners who did not wish to be named.
Popular SGV dessert chain Meet Fresh also commented that they have lost over 20 percent of revenue since the end of January when novel coronavirus concerns began. Meet Fresh’s representative noted that if the concerns continued, the dessert chain would focus more on delivery in coming months to combat further reductions in sales.
Jocelyn Wong, who manages popular food Instagram account @hangrydiary, noted that she continues to dine out in San Gabriel Valley despite being worried about the virus. “I still continue to dine at Chinese restaurants. I don’t want to see them close, so I dine out a lot as I normally would. Yes, I am concerned, but I pick earlier hours to dine out to avoid the crowds or order delivery if needed,” says Wong.
Uniboil, a hot pot restaurant in Monterey Park, has seen a 75 percent drop in business. When asked how long he would be able to keep his restaurant afloat, owner Alan Pun somberly responded, “Maybe not long.”
Even Din Tai Fung in the Westfield Santa Anita Mall isn’t busy at the moment, with ample room for walk-in diners. The popular soup dumpling restaurant, which used to command large crowds and long waits every day of the week, is only half-filled.
Not all Chinese restaurants are on the brink of closing, but there has been a trend of diners eating out earlier around 5 p.m. versus the typical 7 or 8 p.m. dinner rush. The manager at New Lucky, a Cantonese seafood restaurant in Monterey Park, said that the new trend is that diners start coming in very early and place a lot of take out orders. “Business is still way down, but we’re trying to take it one day at a time,” she said.
And although business has definitely declined across the board, it seems as though more affordable restaurants, with breakfast and lunch deals like Delicious Food Corner, Happy Harbor, and The Bay Cafe, have still been full during peak times. Restaurants that specialize in unique dishes like Ji Rong with their Peking duck also seem to be doing well.