Restaurant and coffee shop owners in the San Gabriel Valley have been hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, with operators reducing hours of service, cutting employee shifts, and struggling to fill seats. In addition, many restaurants are finding it difficult to stock common items like toilet paper, or more highly coveted ingredients like oat milk, to stay in operation.
Chris Yang, owner and chef of Yang’s Kitchen, a modern Taiwanese restaurant widely considered one the most exciting new restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, has been feeling the effects of COVID-19. “We are seeing a lot less dine-in customers, more takeout, but our bottom line is still way lower,” he said.
Although Yang is doing his best to emphasize good hygiene and not allowing any sick employees to come to work, he is also being forced to reduce hours. His employees are understandably worried.
“We spoke to them and they understand. We are trying to sort out who doesn’t need the hours and who really wants them before we blindly cut. It’s very tough,” he said.
Yang is fortunate that his landlord is helping them out during this difficult time, but he thinks that a temporary closure is not off the table if things continue to get worse. He’s considering some shifts in business strategy, such as lowering the cost of delivery and takeout foods, or hosting family-style dinners with reservations if people are still willing to dine out. That way he can keep the restaurant open using fewer staff.
“We want to get through this together with the community but it’ll be tough unless people can continue to eat out if they can afford it, and if they trust the restaurants,” he said.
Meanwhile, a server at a Monterey Palace dim sum restaurant who declined to give her name said she was afraid she would lose her job in the wake of reduced business, though she said she’s taking it one day at a time.
“Who would have thought that oat milk and toilet paper would be highly coveted items during the novel coronavirus concerns?” wondered one owner who requested anonymity. Oat milk is unexpectedly a sought-after item due to its shelf stability, unlike dairy milk.
“If I really can’t get a hold of more oat milk, we can manage, but how do I stop buying toilet paper? I can’t not provide customers with toilet paper when they come into my shop,” the coffee shop owner said.
It’s not just panic-buying that is negatively affecting restaurants, diners, and employees in the San Gabriel Valley. Many popular restaurants in the area have closed temporarily, permanently, or are struggling just to stay afloat in Southern California’s most populated Asian-American community.
Ker Zhu, owner of the popular Luscious Dumplings in Monrovia and Mason Dumpling Shop in Highland Park, has faced a similar situation.
“We started cutting [employee] hours, but what’s interesting to note is that our Highland Park location has not really been affected, only the San Gabriel Valley one,” he said.
Although Zhu does not have his official sales numbers yet, he estimates that his popular Monrovia location has lost 60 to 70 percent of revenue since the outbreak began in late January. He is considering making some aggressive adjustments in order to stay in business.
“Closing it off until it gets better and eating the rent is not out of the question,” he said.
A representative from Bistro Na’s, the only Michelin-star Chinese restaurant in Southern California, says the business has reduced hours at the moment — specifically an hour less of service at lunch and weekday dinner, and half an hour less for weekend dinners. Not only are businesses cutting hours, much needed supplies are still not arriving from China since many factories are still closed from mandated factory shutdowns across the country.
Although many restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley have reported an estimated 30 to 75 percent loss in revenue, not all diners are staying away. Amy Ly, originally from the San Gabriel Valley who now resides on the Westside, is taking advantage of popular restaurants that usually have long waits.
“I have personally been taking advantage of the calm and going to restaurants that have always been packed. I already went to Newport Seafood, Bistro Na’s, and I just made reservations for Ji Rong Peking Duck for my dad’s birthday,” she said.
Although most businesses interviewed reported massive declines in sales, Labobatory, a boba shop with two locations in the San Gabriel Valley, has reported an uptick in business. Oscar Ho, manager of Labobatory in Pasadena and San Gabriel, noted that the shop has been busier than ever since LA declared a state of emergency.
“It was a total surprise to me,” he said. “I was bracing for a very slow month, but it’s been either stable or busier than usual.
Although Ho is not entirely sure the reason why both locations have been busy, he did notice that more locals were coming to visit, which he attributes to people not being as willing to travel as far as they once did for food or boba.
He is, however, cautiously optimistic about the stores’ performance. “I think because it’s increasingly becoming a more serious issue for us in LA, we’ll have to see what the impact is in the following weeks to truly assess the situation.”