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“最受伤”的美国中餐馆:能否靠信念渡过难关?

“最受伤”的美国中餐馆:能否靠信念渡过难关?

Karen Yuan 2020年06月25日
全美范围内餐厅都受到影响,但中餐厅受到的打击最大。

移民尤其担忧未来。对所有移民家庭来说,未来充满了不确定。过去的已经过去,未来更像是一场赌博,而且筹码已经全部用完。在新冠病毒大流行的时代,对于移民家庭来说,怎样恢复营业,不容他们思考“能否成功”,而是“必须成功”,因为他们别无选择。坚定的信念是支撑他们度过危机的动力。

而其中,中餐厅老板更需要加倍的信心:疫情导致的封锁影响了全美范围内的餐厅的经营,但中餐厅受到的打击最大。数据订阅服务公司Womply在 4月进行的一项研究发现,新冠疫情期间,超过一半的中餐厅已经停止借记卡和信用卡交易(这代表这些中餐厅已经歇业),歇业比例比任何其他类型的机构都要大(其次是“三明治和熟食餐厅”,歇业比例为23%)。Yelp的数据显示,过去一年中,全美中餐厅搜索次数最低的时间有一半发生在新冠疫情爆发后。根据华埠共同发展机构(Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation)的信息,在疫情最严重时期,纽约市的大多数中餐厅已然停止营业。美国各地的小企业都在努力获得小企业管理局(SBA)的贷款,而许多中餐厅甚至都没有机会获得此类援助。

即使在停业之前,中餐厅的顾客数量也已经大幅下降。当然,种族歧视也是其中的一个原因。一些餐厅成了种族主义者涂鸦和砸窗的受害者。

许多餐厅也因为其主要顾客群体——美籍华人自1月以来就避免在餐厅就餐而开始举步维艰。他们当时从中国的家人的口中听说了新冠病毒,开始害怕群体性聚集活动。位于马里兰州切维·蔡斯市的华强酒家(Meiwah)的老板罗汉文(Larry La)指着罗克维尔和银泉等华人聚集城市的餐厅说:“主要面向华人顾客的餐厅遭受了严重打击。”

由于不允许堂食,餐厅转向外卖模式,你可能会认为多为夫妻店模式的中餐厅会如鱼得水。毕竟,中餐常常是外卖的代名词。但事实上,这些餐厅的处境尤其艰难。

问题是,全美中餐厅数量减少已经持续了一段时间。Yelp数据显示,2019年,美国前20大城市的中餐厅数量一直在下降。从2014年到2018年,全美范围内中餐厅数量下降了7%。部分原因为代际更替——在柜台后面做作业的孩子们已经长大,不想或者不需要接管家族的生意。“我们的目标是不要再回到餐厅(继承父业),因为餐厅只是帮助(移民)融入社会的工具。”位于纽约市唐人街的南华茶室(Nom Wah Tea Parlor)的老板邓炜(Wilson Tang)说。

老派的中餐厅(以左宗棠鸡、印有笑脸的塑料外卖打包袋和餐桌转盘为标志的夫妻店)已经习惯通过电话接受订单,而非其他更先进的手段。可是在疫情期间,保持社交距离的要求加速了其他手段的应用。他们可能不太习惯Grubhub或Uber Eats等第三方应用程序,也玩不转社交媒体。

疫情期间中餐厅遭受的打击并非偶然,而是多年积累的结果。

让我们抛开最坏的情况,假设美国的中餐厅不会消失。他们已经习惯了生存威胁——尽管存在威胁,他们还是在美国实现了蓬勃发展。1882年,禁止中国移民劳工的《排华法案》(Chinese Exclusion Act)通过后,中国工人可以进入美国的少数途径之一是依靠餐厅老板的“商人身份”。移民浪潮转向餐饮业,这是他们赖以谋生的唯一选择。作家李竞(Jennifer 8 Lee)说:“总是会有中餐厅出现并生存下来。他们能挺过核灾难。只要(某个地方)可以维持生命,中餐厅就能够生存下去——这已经形成了思维定势。”

但是想要生存,他们需要改变和适应。

恢复营业准备

南华茶室是曼哈顿最古老的中餐厅,可以追溯到1920年。虽然所在地曼哈顿是旅游胜地,但随着旅游业按下“暂停键”,南华茶室失去了许多食客。在南华茶室的四个餐厅中,只有位于诺丽塔街区的餐厅在城市封锁期间保持开放,并且只允许销售外卖。餐厅也一直在卖速冻点心。

南华已经存在了一个世纪,老板邓炜还期待着餐厅能继续经营更多年。餐厅已经准备重新开张。门前安装了红外线温度计,为顾客测量体温,为员工储备了口罩和手套,同时也在考虑居家体验,比如提供包饺子教程。此外,餐厅还正在与市交通运输部门协商,可能会在唐人街中心开辟多耶斯街(Doyers Street),这样顾客就可以在保持社交距离的前提下在外用餐。南华甚至还想到为顾客提供印有品牌标识的袋子,让他们在用餐时临时存放口罩。

邓炜是曼哈顿唐人街南华茶室的老板。图片来源:Natalie Chitwood/Photo

“这些都是我们打算采取的小措施,但没有一个能做到尽善尽美。”邓炜说。他指出,这些措施实施起来会遇到困难,因为“餐厅的主要作用是让人们聚在一起享受美食”。而这些措施会给顾客带来不好的体验。

旧金山周先生餐厅(Mister Jiu’s)的主厨兼老板布兰登·周(Brandon Jew)也有同感。他说:“我们需要在限制接触的同时,做到热情好客。需要拿捏得恰到好处。在这方面做的好的餐厅可能会取得成功。其实疫情过去之前,我认为人们不应该期待得到多么盛情的接待。但是我们可以提供建议,向顾客们介绍来自农场的食材,或者告诉他们哪些食材搭配起来会很棒,一切良好的体验都需要精心策划。”

周先生餐厅预计上客率为50%。布兰登说,本来餐厅可接待100人,酒吧间可接待65人,但在实施限制之后,餐厅预计可接待45人,酒吧间能否投入使用还未可知。

那些设法重新开张的餐厅将需要依靠技术的帮助。周先生餐厅将尝试非接触式支付,并允许顾客提前点餐。这家餐厅目前使用订餐平台Tock。在外送方面,罗汉文说:华强酒家已经在各个地方经营了20年,现在餐厅在用的平台包括Grubhub、Uber Eats和DoorDash。“所以我们不必做太多准备。只要确保电脑可以正常工作,手机能够正常接听电话,就可以了。”

在保持社交距离重新开业期间,餐厅需要在数字支付和社交技能应用方面做到得心应手。许多符合条件的中餐厅现任所有者和经营者并非第一代移民,而是他们的孩子,邓炜和布兰登就是这样。他们经营餐厅不是出于经济需要,而是凭着对食物和传统的持久热爱。他们中的许多人倾向于地方特色食物或进行烹饪创意。其中的一些餐厅,例如几年前在旧金山的餐饮界大放异彩、拥有米其林星级荣耀的周先生餐厅,提供的美食被认为超越了他们的先辈。

这些生意看起来似乎境况不差,但即便是周先生这样的餐厅也不一定前途一片光明。布兰登说:“疫情过后能够生存下来的餐厅数量将会让人们大吃一惊,但不幸的是,是数量低到让人惊讶。将会有很多餐厅关门。”

罗汉文说:“我们要花很长时间才能恢复到疫情之前的状况。也许三、四个月?谁知道呢。如果再来第二波疫情,还是会有大量餐厅生意难逃厄运。”

在采访中,餐厅老板们也对《财富》杂志表示:即使他们获得完全恢复营业的许可,餐厅可能也做不到。“这取决于员工们的意愿。”邓炜说。他的许多员工都是老年人,但即便是年轻人,许多人也生活在多代同堂的家庭中,跟父母或祖父母住在一起,他们不太愿意复工。“担心会把病毒带回家。”

“不管城市是否封锁,顾客对外出就餐仍然没有100%的信心。”他继续说道。“在未来一年半或两年新疫苗问世之前,我们必须经受住这场风暴。在可预见的未来时间里,情况并不会好转。我们只能过一天算一天,尽量往好处想。”

邓炜说,南华茶室有能力再维持几个月的运营。他说他们很幸运,因为这些餐厅所在的店铺是家庭所有,所以不需要担心租金的问题。

罗汉文也相信自己可以再撑上几个月——尽管他最初认为华强酒家只需要歇上两周。但谈到是否会歇业更长时间,尤其是如果第二波疫情爆发,餐厅是否需要关门直到9月?“现在我都不敢去想。”

罗汉文是位于马里兰州切维·蔡斯市的华强酒家的老板。图片来源:Courtesy of Larry La

如果连资金相对富裕的餐厅都步履蹒跚,那么那些夫妻店(其中许多为移民所有,只收现金)就真的岌岌可危了。由低收入社区经营和服务对象为低收入社区的餐厅在冲击面前最脆弱。

许多传统的中餐厅只收现金,这阻碍了他们利用联邦刺激计划下的援助。“这就是问题所在。”邓炜说。“许多餐厅之所以会倒闭,因为它们无法获得薪酬保障计划(PPP)或美国食品与药品管理局(FDA)的贷款,因为这些年来它们一直低调经营。”

要获得PPP贷款,企业必须有良好的文件记录、足够的员工以及与银行建立关系。作家李竞说:“对于夫妻店来说,这个计划的所有条件都很棘手。”例如,许多中餐厅利用不计入员工工资的费用为他们提供食宿。“这样一来就对他们影响很大。”

新冠疫情导致小型中餐厅萎缩,而一个更大的问题进一步加剧了这一现象。“中餐厅是中国人移民美国的一个手段。”李竞指出。特朗普政府对移民(包括来自中国的移民)采取的严厉立场,可能会限制以开设新餐厅为理由的移民流入。她说:“现在对于想要进入美国的中国移民以及其他国家移民来说,都不是最佳时机。”

反华歧视

新冠疫情大流行给中餐厅蒙上了双重阴影:对失去生意的担忧和对反华歧视的恐惧。

“由于特朗普总统的评论,以及一些民众的偏听偏信,我认为整个华人社区和中餐还有另一层困难或障碍要克服。”布兰登说。“我……这让我有点生气,因为这样一来只会雪上加霜。我们遭受的歧视已经够多了。”

南华茶室的大部分员工住在布鲁克林的日落公园和本森赫斯特地区。他们路上要花上一个多小时才能到达工作地唐人街。邓炜说,南华茶室的员工不愿意上班是因为害怕病毒,以及在地铁上可能遇到的种族歧视。他提到了在疫情高峰期发生的辱骂、骚扰甚至攻击的报道。“唐人街有一个厨师聊天群。”邓炜说,他的员工会在群里分享新闻。有些信息可能被夸大或会产生误导,但种族主义者攻击相关的消息“无论好坏,都给他们带来更大压力”。

邓炜预计,反华歧视将在封锁后继续存在,而低收入移民最容易受到这种歧视的影响。他说:“在整个文化氛围中,我们花了很长时间才取得了一些进步。现在新冠疫情一发生,这种文化又要不可避免倒退回去。”

“因为疫情的发生,人们不得不待在家里,他们可能会感到沮丧,进而可能会把这归咎于华人。还可能会把这种怨气扩大到中餐厅或中餐上。”罗汉文说。“因此,总的来说,中餐厅的未来将非常艰难。”

但布兰登认为这是一个振作起来重新恢复营业的机会。“担心是一方面,另一方面,这在一定程度上也激励我重新开业。”他说。“如果人们真的不愿意到唐人街来,我想亲身体验一下,我可以告诉人们这种观点完全是胡扯。”

许多中餐厅雇佣的员工全部或大部分是移民。一家中餐厅经营困难甚至关门,意味着整个移民社区会立即面临财务危机。布兰登雇佣了一些无证员工,包括一名和他一起工作了将近10年的厨师。

另一方面,据餐厅老板说,也正因为这种移民构成,餐厅或许能更好地在疫情中生存下来。“典型的第一代移民非常节俭。”邓炜指的是他的老员工。“他们会存钱。”

“我们移民通常会存钱以备不时之需。”身为移民的罗汉文在谈到自己员工的经济状况时说。“我们不会赚多少花多少,这种习惯会起到很大作用。”

中国美食不会离开

尽管因为生意感到压力,但这些餐厅老板确实相信美国人仍然喜欢中餐。“我相信中餐的魅力。”布兰登说。“我知道,无论如何,人们都会喜欢中餐,喜欢中餐的味道。即便是现在,我仍然对中餐有着强烈的信心。”

布兰登·周是旧金山周先生餐厅的老板兼厨师。图片来源:Courtesy of Brandon Jew

“即使餐厅遭受经营困难,美国人对中餐的喜爱程度依然没有降低。”李竞说。事实上,尽管自新冠疫情爆发之前,小型中餐厅就一直在艰难经营,但几年前至今的Grubhub数据也显示,左宗棠鸡名列该应用程序最受欢迎的五大菜肴之一。(财富中文网)

译者:Biz

移民尤其担忧未来。对所有移民家庭来说,未来充满了不确定。过去的已经过去,未来更像是一场赌博,而且筹码已经全部用完。在新冠病毒大流行的时代,对于移民家庭来说,怎样恢复营业,不容他们思考“能否成功”,而是“必须成功”,因为他们别无选择。坚定的信念是支撑他们度过危机的动力。

而其中,中餐厅老板更需要加倍的信心:疫情导致的封锁影响了全美范围内的餐厅的经营,但中餐厅受到的打击最大。数据订阅服务公司Womply在 4月进行的一项研究发现,新冠疫情期间,超过一半的中餐厅已经停止借记卡和信用卡交易(这代表这些中餐厅已经歇业),歇业比例比任何其他类型的机构都要大(其次是“三明治和熟食餐厅”,歇业比例为23%)。Yelp的数据显示,过去一年中,全美中餐厅搜索次数最低的时间有一半发生在新冠疫情爆发后。根据华埠共同发展机构(Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation)的信息,在疫情最严重时期,纽约市的大多数中餐厅已然停止营业。美国各地的小企业都在努力获得小企业管理局(SBA)的贷款,而许多中餐厅甚至都没有机会获得此类援助。

即使在停业之前,中餐厅的顾客数量也已经大幅下降。当然,种族歧视也是其中的一个原因。一些餐厅成了种族主义者涂鸦和砸窗的受害者。

许多餐厅也因为其主要顾客群体——美籍华人自1月以来就避免在餐厅就餐而开始举步维艰。他们当时从中国的家人的口中听说了新冠病毒,开始害怕群体性聚集活动。位于马里兰州切维·蔡斯市的华强酒家(Meiwah)的老板罗汉文(Larry La)指着罗克维尔和银泉等华人聚集城市的餐厅说:“主要面向华人顾客的餐厅遭受了严重打击。”

由于不允许堂食,餐厅转向外卖模式,你可能会认为多为夫妻店模式的中餐厅会如鱼得水。毕竟,中餐常常是外卖的代名词。但事实上,这些餐厅的处境尤其艰难。

问题是,全美中餐厅数量减少已经持续了一段时间。Yelp数据显示,2019年,美国前20大城市的中餐厅数量一直在下降。从2014年到2018年,全美范围内中餐厅数量下降了7%。部分原因为代际更替——在柜台后面做作业的孩子们已经长大,不想或者不需要接管家族的生意。“我们的目标是不要再回到餐厅(继承父业),因为餐厅只是帮助(移民)融入社会的工具。”位于纽约市唐人街的南华茶室(Nom Wah Tea Parlor)的老板邓炜(Wilson Tang)说。

老派的中餐厅(以左宗棠鸡、印有笑脸的塑料外卖打包袋和餐桌转盘为标志的夫妻店)已经习惯通过电话接受订单,而非其他更先进的手段。可是在疫情期间,保持社交距离的要求加速了其他手段的应用。他们可能不太习惯Grubhub或Uber Eats等第三方应用程序,也玩不转社交媒体。

疫情期间中餐厅遭受的打击并非偶然,而是多年积累的结果。

让我们抛开最坏的情况,假设美国的中餐厅不会消失。他们已经习惯了生存威胁——尽管存在威胁,他们还是在美国实现了蓬勃发展。1882年,禁止中国移民劳工的《排华法案》(Chinese Exclusion Act)通过后,中国工人可以进入美国的少数途径之一是依靠餐厅老板的“商人身份”。移民浪潮转向餐饮业,这是他们赖以谋生的唯一选择。作家李竞(Jennifer 8 Lee)说:“总是会有中餐厅出现并生存下来。他们能挺过核灾难。只要(某个地方)可以维持生命,中餐厅就能够生存下去——这已经形成了思维定势。”

但是想要生存,他们需要改变和适应。

恢复营业准备

南华茶室是曼哈顿最古老的中餐厅,可以追溯到1920年。虽然所在地曼哈顿是旅游胜地,但随着旅游业按下“暂停键”,南华茶室失去了许多食客。在南华茶室的四个餐厅中,只有位于诺丽塔街区的餐厅在城市封锁期间保持开放,并且只允许销售外卖。餐厅也一直在卖速冻点心。

南华已经存在了一个世纪,老板邓炜还期待着餐厅能继续经营更多年。餐厅已经准备重新开张。门前安装了红外线温度计,为顾客测量体温,为员工储备了口罩和手套,同时也在考虑居家体验,比如提供包饺子教程。此外,餐厅还正在与市交通运输部门协商,可能会在唐人街中心开辟多耶斯街(Doyers Street),这样顾客就可以在保持社交距离的前提下在外用餐。南华甚至还想到为顾客提供印有品牌标识的袋子,让他们在用餐时临时存放口罩。

“这些都是我们打算采取的小措施,但没有一个能做到尽善尽美。”邓炜说。他指出,这些措施实施起来会遇到困难,因为“餐厅的主要作用是让人们聚在一起享受美食”。而这些措施会给顾客带来不好的体验。

旧金山周先生餐厅(Mister Jiu’s)的主厨兼老板布兰登·周(Brandon Jew)也有同感。他说:“我们需要在限制接触的同时,做到热情好客。需要拿捏得恰到好处。在这方面做的好的餐厅可能会取得成功。其实疫情过去之前,我认为人们不应该期待得到多么盛情的接待。但是我们可以提供建议,向顾客们介绍来自农场的食材,或者告诉他们哪些食材搭配起来会很棒,一切良好的体验都需要精心策划。”

周先生餐厅预计上客率为50%。布兰登说,本来餐厅可接待100人,酒吧间可接待65人,但在实施限制之后,餐厅预计可接待45人,酒吧间能否投入使用还未可知。

那些设法重新开张的餐厅将需要依靠技术的帮助。周先生餐厅将尝试非接触式支付,并允许顾客提前点餐。这家餐厅目前使用订餐平台Tock。在外送方面,罗汉文说:华强酒家已经在各个地方经营了20年,现在餐厅在用的平台包括Grubhub、Uber Eats和DoorDash。“所以我们不必做太多准备。只要确保电脑可以正常工作,手机能够正常接听电话,就可以了。”

在保持社交距离重新开业期间,餐厅需要在数字支付和社交技能应用方面做到得心应手。许多符合条件的中餐厅现任所有者和经营者并非第一代移民,而是他们的孩子,邓炜和布兰登就是这样。他们经营餐厅不是出于经济需要,而是凭着对食物和传统的持久热爱。他们中的许多人倾向于地方特色食物或进行烹饪创意。其中的一些餐厅,例如几年前在旧金山的餐饮界大放异彩、拥有米其林星级荣耀的周先生餐厅,提供的美食被认为超越了他们的先辈。

这些生意看起来似乎境况不差,但即便是周先生这样的餐厅也不一定前途一片光明。布兰登说:“疫情过后能够生存下来的餐厅数量将会让人们大吃一惊,但不幸的是,是数量低到让人惊讶。将会有很多餐厅关门。”

罗汉文说:“我们要花很长时间才能恢复到疫情之前的状况。也许三、四个月?谁知道呢。如果再来第二波疫情,还是会有大量餐厅生意难逃厄运。”

在采访中,餐厅老板们也对《财富》杂志表示:即使他们获得完全恢复营业的许可,餐厅可能也做不到。“这取决于员工们的意愿。”邓炜说。他的许多员工都是老年人,但即便是年轻人,许多人也生活在多代同堂的家庭中,跟父母或祖父母住在一起,他们不太愿意复工。“担心会把病毒带回家。”

“不管城市是否封锁,顾客对外出就餐仍然没有100%的信心。”他继续说道。“在未来一年半或两年新疫苗问世之前,我们必须经受住这场风暴。在可预见的未来时间里,情况并不会好转。我们只能过一天算一天,尽量往好处想。”

邓炜说,南华茶室有能力再维持几个月的运营。他说他们很幸运,因为这些餐厅所在的店铺是家庭所有,所以不需要担心租金的问题。

罗汉文也相信自己可以再撑上几个月——尽管他最初认为华强酒家只需要歇上两周。但谈到是否会歇业更长时间,尤其是如果第二波疫情爆发,餐厅是否需要关门直到9月?“现在我都不敢去想。”

如果连资金相对富裕的餐厅都步履蹒跚,那么那些夫妻店(其中许多为移民所有,只收现金)就真的岌岌可危了。由低收入社区经营和服务对象为低收入社区的餐厅在冲击面前最脆弱。

许多传统的中餐厅只收现金,这阻碍了他们利用联邦刺激计划下的援助。“这就是问题所在。”邓炜说。“许多餐厅之所以会倒闭,因为它们无法获得薪酬保障计划(PPP)或美国食品与药品管理局(FDA)的贷款,因为这些年来它们一直低调经营。”

要获得PPP贷款,企业必须有良好的文件记录、足够的员工以及与银行建立关系。作家李竞说:“对于夫妻店来说,这个计划的所有条件都很棘手。”例如,许多中餐厅利用不计入员工工资的费用为他们提供食宿。“这样一来就对他们影响很大。”

新冠疫情导致小型中餐厅萎缩,而一个更大的问题进一步加剧了这一现象。“中餐厅是中国人移民美国的一个手段。”李竞指出。特朗普政府对移民(包括来自中国的移民)采取的严厉立场,可能会限制以开设新餐厅为理由的移民流入。她说:“现在对于想要进入美国的中国移民以及其他国家移民来说,都不是最佳时机。”

反华歧视

新冠疫情大流行给中餐厅蒙上了双重阴影:对失去生意的担忧和对反华歧视的恐惧。

“由于特朗普总统的评论,以及一些民众的偏听偏信,我认为整个华人社区和中餐还有另一层困难或障碍要克服。”布兰登说。“我……这让我有点生气,因为这样一来只会雪上加霜。我们遭受的歧视已经够多了。”

南华茶室的大部分员工住在布鲁克林的日落公园和本森赫斯特地区。他们路上要花上一个多小时才能到达工作地唐人街。邓炜说,南华茶室的员工不愿意上班是因为害怕病毒,以及在地铁上可能遇到的种族歧视。他提到了在疫情高峰期发生的辱骂、骚扰甚至攻击的报道。“唐人街有一个厨师聊天群。”邓炜说,他的员工会在群里分享新闻。有些信息可能被夸大或会产生误导,但种族主义者攻击相关的消息“无论好坏,都给他们带来更大压力”。

邓炜预计,反华歧视将在封锁后继续存在,而低收入移民最容易受到这种歧视的影响。他说:“在整个文化氛围中,我们花了很长时间才取得了一些进步。现在新冠疫情一发生,这种文化又要不可避免倒退回去。”

“因为疫情的发生,人们不得不待在家里,他们可能会感到沮丧,进而可能会把这归咎于华人。还可能会把这种怨气扩大到中餐厅或中餐上。”罗汉文说。“因此,总的来说,中餐厅的未来将非常艰难。”

但布兰登认为这是一个振作起来重新恢复营业的机会。“担心是一方面,另一方面,这在一定程度上也激励我重新开业。”他说。“如果人们真的不愿意到唐人街来,我想亲身体验一下,我可以告诉人们这种观点完全是胡扯。”

许多中餐厅雇佣的员工全部或大部分是移民。一家中餐厅经营困难甚至关门,意味着整个移民社区会立即面临财务危机。布兰登雇佣了一些无证员工,包括一名和他一起工作了将近10年的厨师。

另一方面,据餐厅老板说,也正因为这种移民构成,餐厅或许能更好地在疫情中生存下来。“典型的第一代移民非常节俭。”邓炜指的是他的老员工。“他们会存钱。”

“我们移民通常会存钱以备不时之需。”身为移民的罗汉文在谈到自己员工的经济状况时说。“我们不会赚多少花多少,这种习惯会起到很大作用。”

中国美食不会离开

尽管因为生意感到压力,但这些餐厅老板确实相信美国人仍然喜欢中餐。“我相信中餐的魅力。”布兰登说。“我知道,无论如何,人们都会喜欢中餐,喜欢中餐的味道。即便是现在,我仍然对中餐有着强烈的信心。”

“即使餐厅遭受经营困难,美国人对中餐的喜爱程度依然没有降低。”李竞说。事实上,尽管自新冠疫情爆发之前,小型中餐厅就一直在艰难经营,但几年前至今的Grubhub数据也显示,左宗棠鸡名列该应用程序最受欢迎的五大菜肴之一。(财富中文网)

译者:Biz

The future is a particularly immigrant concern. For any immigrant family, the future is all encompassing. The past has been severed, and the future is a gamble that’s been entirely cashed in on. In the era of the coronavirus pandemic, how to reopen is not a question of, “Will I succeed?” It is a vow: “I must succeed or else.” The steeliness of that hope is what drives one through crisis.

Chinese restaurant owners will need to double down on that resolve: While restaurants nationwide have lost business owing to lockdowns, Chinese restaurants have been among the hardest hit. An April study conducted by the data subscription service Womply found that over half of them had stopped taking debit and credit card transactions during the pandemic, indicating closed operations—more than any other type of establishment (the next most closed being “sandwich and deli concepts” at 23%). According to Yelp data, half of the worst days for Chinese restaurant searches in the U.S. over the past year occurred since the coronavirus broke out. During the pandemic’s peak, most Chinese restaurants in New York City had ceased operations, according to the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation. While small businesses everywhere have struggled to nab SBA loans, many Chinese restaurants aren’t even around anymore to receive such aid.

Even before the shutdowns, Chinese restaurants saw a significant drop in customers. Certainly racism played a part: Some restaurants faced discrimination from consumers wrongfully wary of Chinese food spreading the coronavirus in the U.S. Others have been the subject of racist graffiti and broken windows.

Many restaurants also began to struggle because some Chinese-Americans, who made up the majority of their clientele, started avoiding restaurants in January as they heard about the coronavirus from family in China and became fearful of large gatherings. “Restaurants that had mostly Chinese customers were hit really badly,” Larry La, the owner of Meiwah in Chevy Chase, Md., says, pointing to those in Rockville and Silver Spring, towns with large Chinese populations.

As dining rooms emptied and restaurants pivoted to delivery and takeout models, you might assume mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants would be ahead of the game. Chinese food is frequently synonymous with takeout, after all. But these restaurants in particular have been struggling.

The thing is, Chinese restaurants in America have been vanishing for a while. Yelp data showed in 2019 that the number of Chinese restaurants has been consistently declining in the country’s top 20 cities. From 2014 to 2018, they saw a 7% drop nationwide. Part of it is a generational shift—the kids doing homework behind the counter have grown up and don’t want to, or need to, take over the family business. “The goal is to not come back to the restaurant, because the restaurant is [a] crutch to get [immigrants] through society,” says Wilson Tang, owner of Nom Wah Tea Parlor in New York City’s Chinatown.

Old-school Chinese restaurants—the mom-and-pop shops marked by General Tso’s chicken, happy-face plastic takeout bags, and lazy Susans—have been used to orders placed over the phone, not through the tech-savvy solutions accelerated by social distancing. They may be less used to third-party apps such Grubhub or Uber Eats. They may be less likely to have a major presence on social media.

The blow to Chinese restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic is less of a sudden hit and more the result of years of pummeling.

Let’s get the worst-case scenario out of the way: Chinese restaurants in America won’t go extinct. They’re accustomed to existential threat—in fact, they’ve thrived in the U.S. in direct spite of it. After the Chinese Exclusion Act, a moratorium on immigrant laborers from China, was passed in 1882, one of the few ways Chinese workers could still enter the country was through the “merchant status” of a restaurant owner. Waves of immigrants were diverted to the restaurant business as their only livelihood option. “Chinese restaurants always pop up and survive,” the writer Jennifer 8 Lee says. “They can survive nuclear disasters. If [places] can support life, they can support Chinese restaurants—that’s one school of thought.”

But to survive, they’ll need to adapt.

Preparing to reopen

Nom Wah Tea Parlor is Manhattan’s oldest Chinese restaurant, dating back to 1920. As a tourist destination, it has lost many diners as a result of travel halts. Out of its four locations, only the Nolita site has stayed open during the city’s shutdown and only for takeout. It’s been selling frozen dim sum.

Nom Wah has persisted for a century, and Tang is looking forward to still more years. The restaurant is already preparing to reopen. It has secured infrared thermometers for the front of the house to check customers with. It has stockpiled masks and gloves for staff. Nom Wah is also considering at-home experiences, such as offering tutorials on dumpling wrapping. It is talking with the city’s Department of Transportation to potentially open up Doyers Street, in the heart of Chinatown, so customers can dine outside while socially distanced. Nom Wah is even thinking about providing branded bags for customers to put their face masks in while they dine.

“These are little steps we intend on taking, but none of it is bulletproof,” Tang says. They are hard measures to take, because “a restaurant’s main goal is for people to come together and enjoy,” he notes. These measures are counterintuitive to that.

Brandon Jew, the chef and owner of Mister Jiu’s in San Francisco, feels the same. “We’ll need to limit interactions but also be hospitable. It’s a real fine line. The restaurants good at that in-between will probably be successful,” he says. “I don’t think people should expect great hospitality until this is sorted. Until we can give recommendations, tell them about the food from farms, or tell them that this pairing will be great, everything is going to be a very orchestrated, very planned experience.”

Mister Jiu’s is expecting half occupancy. It will go from a restaurant that seats 100 and a lounge that seats 65 to a restaurant that seats 45 people and a lounge that “is up in the air,” says Jew.

The restaurants that manage to reopen will need to rely on technology. Mister Jiu’s is going to try contactless payment and will allow food to be ordered ahead of time. The restaurant is currently using Tock, a reservation platform. For delivery, La says Meiwah, which has been around in various locations for 20 years, now uses Grubhub, Uber Eats, and DoorDash. “So we don’t have to prepare a lot. Just make sure the computer is working, the phone is working, that’s it,” he says.

Restaurants will need to be handy with digital payments and social-savvy to thrive during socially distanced reopenings. Many Chinese restaurants that fit that bill are owned and operated not by immigrants but their children, as is the case with Tang and Jew. They’re not run out of financial necessity but rather an abiding love for food and heritage. Many of them trend toward regional foods or push the envelope on culinary creativity. Some of them, like the Michelin-starred Mister Jiu’s, which blazed onto San Francisco’s dining scene a handful of years ago, are considered fine dining in a way their predecessors never were.

These businesses seem as if they’d be fine, but even Mister Jiu’s isn’t in the clear. “The amount of restaurants that are going to be able to survive after this—it’s going to really surprise people, unfortunately in a bad way,” says Jew. “There’s going to be a lot of closures.”

Says La: “It will take a long time to get back to where we were. Maybe three, four months? We don’t know. An unpredictable second wave could kill a lot of business.”

Even if they get the green light to fully reopen, the restaurateurs Fortune spoke with say their restaurants might not. “It depends on the comfort of the staff,” Tang says. Many of his staff are elderly, but many of the younger folks also live in multigenerational households, with parents or grandparents, and are hesitant to go into work. “Bringing the virus back home is a concern.

“Customers still wouldn’t have full confidence in dining out, lockdown or not,” he continues. “We’ve got to weather the storm for the next year and half or two years, when a new vaccine comes out. It’s cloudy for the foreseeable future. We can only take it one day at a time and hope for the best.”

Tang thinks Nom Wah can afford to keep its locations closed for another few months. He says they’re lucky because the spaces themselves are family-owned, so they don’t need to worry about rent.

La also thinks another few months are manageable—though he originally thought Meiwah would need to be closed for only two weeks. But any longer than that, especially if restaurants need to close through September in the event of a second wave of outbreaks? “That’s just unthinkable right now.”

If even the relatively wealthy restaurants are stumbling, then the mom-and-pop shops, many of which are immigrant-owned and operate cash only, are really in danger. The ones that are run by and serve low-income communities are the most vulnerable.

Running as cash-only businesses, as a lot of old-school Chinese restaurants do, hinders these small businesses from taking advantage of aid as part of the federal stimulus package. “That’s the problem,” Tang says. “A lot of places will fail because they can’t get PPP or FDA loans, because all through the years they’ve been operating under the radar.”

For a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan, a business must have good documentation, enough employees, and a relationship with a bank. “Everything about that program is tricky for mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants,” writer Jennifer 8 Lee says. For example, many Chinese restaurants provide housing and food through costs that aren’t reflected in employee salaries. “It hurts them in a really big way.”

The coronavirus-induced shrinkage of small Chinese restaurants is exacerbated by a broader problem. “Chinese restaurants are a function of Chinese immigration,” Lee notes. The Trump administration’s severe stance on immigrants, including those from China, may squeeze the flow of immigrants opening up new restaurants: “It’s not the best time to be an immigrant from China or an immigrant in general.”

Anti-Chinese discrimination

The coronavirus pandemic casts a double shadow over Chinese restaurants: the specter of losing business and the fear of anti-Chinese discrimination.

“Because of the President’s comments, and what some people believe about 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,” Jew says. “I just…It kinda pisses me off because it’s just not needed. There’s so much already.”

The majority of Nom Wah’s employees live in the Sunset Park and Bensonhurst areas of Brooklyn. It takes them over an hour to commute to Chinatown. Tang says Nom Wah’s staff fear going into work because of the virus, along with the potential racism they might experience on the subway. He cites reports of verbal abuse, harassment, and even assault that occurred during the peak of the pandemic. “There’s a chat group for cooks in Chinatown,” Tang says, where his employees share news. Some of the information may be exaggerated or misleading, but the news of racist attacks has “added to the stress, for better or for worse.”

Tang expects anti-Chinese discrimination to continue after lockdown, which low-income immigrants are most vulnerable to. “It’s taken us so long as a culture to move forward. This one pandemic really set us back as a culture,” he says.

“People might get upset about what happened, that they had to stay home, and they might blame it on the Chinese. They might carry that into Chinese restaurants or Chinese food too,” La says. “So the future of Chinese restaurants in general is going to be very tough.”

Jew sees it as a rally for reopening. “It’s something I’m concerned with, but it’s also part of what’s motivating me to reopen,” he says. “If people are really not going to come out to Chinatown, I want to experience that so I can tell people this is bullshit.”

Many Chinese restaurants employ an all- or majority-immigrant staff. For a Chinese restaurant to struggle—and shut down—is for an entire community of immigrants to face financial precarity at once. Jew employs some undocumented workers, including a prep cook who’s worked with him for almost 10 years.

On the other hand, that immigrant makeup may be the very reason why a restaurant may better survive the pandemic, according to restaurateurs. “Typical for first-generation immigrants, they are very frugal,” Tang says, referring to his older employees. “They save money.”

“Immigrants, we usually save money for the rainy day,” La, an immigrant himself, says about his staff’s well-being. “We don’t just use all the pennies we make, so I think that’s helped too.”

Chinese cuisine isn’t going anywhere

Though stressed about their businesses, these restaurateurs do expect Americans will still have an appetite for Chinese food. “I believe in Chinese cuisine,” Jew says. “I know, no matter what, people will crave this food and its flavors, and I still feel strongly about this cuisine as a whole.”

“Even as restaurants suffer, the American taste for Chinese food is not on the decline,” Lee says. Indeed, even though small Chinese restaurants have been struggling since before the pandemic, Grubhub data from a few years ago also revealed General Tso’s chicken to be among the app’s top five most ordered dishes.

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