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Thread: Chinatown, San Francisco

  1. #16
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    What will Chinatown look like after the pandemic ends?

    There's an embedded vid but it says exactly what this article says.

    'It's a disaster:' SF Chinatown merchants, denied loans, speak out after 100-year-old staple forced to close
    This comes as news that Far East Café, a staple in Chinatown for more than a hundred years, announced they will close next week.
    By J.R. Stone
    Tuesday, December 22, 2020 11:17PM

    Business owners in San Francisco's Chinatown are speaking out, demanding that the city do more to help them. This comes as news that Far East Café, a staple in Chinatown for more than a hundred years, announced they will close next week.

    SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Business owners in San Francisco's Chinatown are speaking out, demanding that the city do more to help them.

    This comes as news that Far East Café, a staple in Chinatown for more than a hundred years, announced they will close next week amid the coronavirus crisis.

    "That's really sad to see that Far East is closing because it's one of the best restaurants in Chinatown," says Domingo Ortiz who works nearby.

    And there is a fear in this neighborhood that more businesses will close if help doesn't come soon.

    "For Rent" and "For Sale" signs already sit in the windows of vacant storefronts in the once-bustling area.

    Denis Xenos, the owner of Denis' Country Kitchen in Lodi, California, claims to have found a loophole to legally keep his small business open against the state's stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic.

    Sam Chen of Magical Ice Cream tried for a small business loan, but was denied.

    "I do try like four times but I couldn't get it," says Chen.

    Those across the street at New Age Camera tried for a loan. They were denied as well.

    "Over here it is a disaster," says Ortiz.

    Eva Lee of the Chinatown Merchants Association says city leaders need to help fight for these businesses by helping with grants and loans, or work to partner them with big companies.

    "What do we want our city to look like? Are we going to be like a typical suburbia with just Targets and big stores left? Is that what we want? The fabric of our city is being torn apart right now," says Lee.

    And as the city landscape changes, lawmakers in Washington D.C. are arguing about whether to give $600 or $2,000 to individuals.

    It's money that wouldn't go to businesses, but would go to those who work in these locations and are barely getting by.

    "Like I told my wife last night, anything the amount helps even if it's 600 dollars," says Ortiz.
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  2. #17
    All people's problems are getting worse due to these uncertain times. I really wish that this pandemic will get to an end.

  3. #18
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    Chinatown blues

    CORONAVIRUS CALIFORNIA
    San Francisco's Chinatown clings to hope amid COVID-19 pandemic

    Small businesses and restaurants in the historic neighborhood are banding together. But they need your help.
    By Lauren Gee
    Monday, January 18, 2021 5:15PM

    San Francisco's Chinatown was one of the first neighborhoods to feel the impact of the coronavirus pandemic so we visited the neighborhood to see how businesses are surviving.

    SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- If you've ever been to San Francisco's Chinatown on any weekday afternoon, pre-pandemic, you'd be struck by the vitality of the community. Residents weaving through the tourists, the sound of children throwing poppers onto the ground, workers unloading boxes of fresh produce onto crowded sidewalks while locals compete to find the best deals.

    Now, many businesses in America's oldest Chinatown are at risk of closing. We spent a day in Chinatown to find out how the neighborhood is really doing.

    Our day started as we emerged from the underground parking lot at Portsmouth Square where we were first shocked to see dozens of people.

    It wasn't the normal sight of seniors huddling together playing cards and chess, or dancers practicing their Chinese fan dance routine. Instead, it was a sea of people wearing face masks and shields as they waited to get a COVID-19 test.

    Grant Avenue, Chinatown's most popular corridor for tourists, was empty. Entire blocks of businesses were adorned with closed signs, colorful toys inside souvenir shops were locked behind metal gates and the red lanterns dangling in the wind were the only moving objects in sight.

    "It feels depressed, you know, I mean, if there's no other way to describe it, it feels depressed and it doesn't feel like Chinatown," Malcolm Yeung, executive director of Chinatown Community Development Center, explained.

    San Francisco was one of the first cities in the nation to implement the shutdown, which prompted empty streets across town, but Chinatown Merchants Association's Advisor Betty Louie believes the neighborhood was hit even earlier because of xenophobia.

    What started as attacks, to empty stores, then a major decline in tourism, it has been a detrimental year for the community, Malcolm Yeung explained.

    "Even back then (pre-pandemic), I would say we have about 930 storefronts in Chinatown. I would be surprised if even 150 were operational right now," he added.


    Since the pandemic started, Eastern Bakery owner Orlando Kuan has moved his pastries outside for people to see on Grant Avenue.
    KGO-TV

    We spotted Eastern Bakery owner Orlando Kuan sitting on a plastic fold-out chair under his shop's awning with a table of freshly-baked treats.

    "Chinatown is almost dead," he explained.

    Even as the oldest bakery in Chinatown, Kuan says he lost at least 70% of sales since the shutdown started. It's his loyal customers who rave about the bakery's coffee crunch cake, moon cakes and Smackles (crispy savory cookies) that keep him going.

    "It's nothing like before," Yeung said. "I think that Chinatown and particularly Grant Avenue is like a ghost town right now."

    To prove just how empty the neighborhood is, we went to the most crowded shop we could think of -- Chinatown's iconic Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. The storefront is tucked in an alley, but you can't miss it because on any afternoon, you'd smell the sweet scent of cookies and see visitors lining out the door waiting to squeeze through for a peek at how fortune cookies are made. This time, we missed the alley and the store was empty.

    "It's just terrible, miserable and we have no business," Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company owner Kevin Chan explained.

    Now, Chan says he can't even afford to turn his machine on because no one is buying his fortune cookies. Since the pandemic, Chan says he's lucky to see 10 customers per day -- they're all local.


    "This business is 15 years here. I can't afford to shut it down because it's a legacy," said Kevin Chan, owner of Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in San Francisco's Chinatown.
    KGO-TV

    As we walked through the streets with Chinatown's Community Director Malcolm Yeung, we realized the neighborhood wasn't all that quiet. Shopkeepers shouted to one another from across the street, locals who recognized Yeung exchanged their greetings and, he pointed out a silver lining amid the pandemic -- community.

    Following the announcement of one of Chinatown's oldest and most iconic restaurants permanently closing, the community's resilience was on full display.

    Since the shutdown of indoor dining, Far East Cafe's 100-year-old hand-carved wooden chandeliers, prohibition-era dining booths and lazy Susan's have been collecting dust. Owner Bill Lee and his daughter, Kathy Lee, described how strange it was to stand in a dark space that was once a hub for family banquets, wedding celebrations and huge association gatherings. Bill Lee shared that he has less than 30 orders a day and the latest ban on outdoor dining was "the nail on the coffin."

    Longtime customers, neighboring business owners and even Supervisor Aaron Peskin plead with Lee to hold off on closing so they could secure $1.9 million, a relief package that would fund CCDC's Feed and Fuel Chinatown program, which pays local restaurants to make meals for neighbors living in single-room-occupancy hotels.

    Business owners in San Francisco's Chinatown are speaking out, demanding that the city do more to help them. This comes as news that Far East Café, a staple in Chinatown for more than a hundred years, announced they will close next week.

    The Lees said they're taking a break and hope the wait will give them time to reboot and figure out how to continue moving forward. "The community, they support us 100%."

    "I think the pandemic has really brought us much closer together," Merchant Association Advisor Betty Louie said. "We're all helping each other as much as possible."

    The closed streets program was another way the neighborhood was able to connect with one another and boost business. Louie is optimistic that the program brings a newfound perspective to the area and entices new businesses with lowered rent.

    As Lunar New Year soon approaches, the CCDC's executive director said it's going to be devastating since no parades or street festivals are scheduled. Chinatown businesses generate up to a third of their annual revenue during the holiday. "That's why the help from the city, the donors, from whoever....to keep the restaurants open, the immigrants employed is more critical now than ever," Yeung said.

    "The only way we'll survive is to have people come and support our small businesses and they won't know what it's like if they don't come and visit and they'll be pleasantly surprised," Louie adds.

    Louie was right -- we were prepared to see closed storefronts and quiet streets, but what we didn't expect to find was the generosity and resilience of business owners who refused to give up. Though Chinatown may look like a ghost town, the community is coming together and most importantly, clinging to hope.

    "When Chinatown reopens for business, it will be a great place to come."

    To help donate to Feed and Fuel Chinatown program, click here.

    Treat yourself during quarantine with Eastern Bakery's homemade pastries, artisan chocolates from Jades Chocolate, or delicious fortune cookies from Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company.

    ABC7 News' Alix Martichoux contributed to this report.
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  4. #19
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    Saving Chinatowns

    Lunar New Year celebrations this year aim to help struggling Chinatowns
    In New York City, grassroots groups are using the holiday to support businesses that lost 50 percent to 70 percent of revenue since the pandemic began.

    Finnie Fung, the owner of Green Fish Seafood Market in Oakland, Calif., is featured in the recipe zine "Have You Eaten Yet?"Good Good Eatz
    Feb. 5, 2021, 9:37 AM PST
    By Victoria Namkung

    Lunar New Year celebrations usually mean colorful lion dance parades, thumping drumbeats, popping firecrackers and massive feasts with family and friends. While the holiday will certainly look different in the Covid-19 era, wishes for health, wealth and good fortune are louder than ever in America's struggling Chinatowns.

    The Year of the Ox begins Feb. 12, and organizations, grassroots groups and volunteers throughout the country are using the Lunar New Year to raise money for Chinatown businesses hit especially hard since the onset of the pandemic. Creative initiatives and virtual events are using art, storytelling, culture and community to highlight the people behind the businesses that make Chinatowns beloved places for countless Asian Americans.

    New York City's Welcome to Chinatown, founded by friends and Manhattan Chinatown residents Victoria Lee and Jennifer Tam, partnered with the Abrons Arts Center and Wing on Wo's W.O.W. Project to commemorate Lunar New Year with "From Chinatown, With Love," a photo calendar shot by Mischelle Moy, featuring products from 18 Manhattan Chinatown businesses, such as Lucky King Bakery and Bangkok Center Grocery.

    "We want people to see the Chinatown we see as locals," Tam said. "Chinatown is so much more than a place for tourism or gathering."


    IMAGE: The calendar 'From Chinatown, With Love'
    The calendar "From Chinatown, With Love" features photos of 18 Manhattan Chinatown businesses.Mischelle Moy
    The classic Chinese-style calendar, which will be given to customers who spend $20 at participating businesses, is accompanied by a neighborhood Lunar New Year gift guide filled with local insider tips.

    Tam said her nonprofit has raised more than $650,000 for Manhattan's Chinatown since it was founded 10 months ago.

    Welcome to Chinatown is also selling a Lunar New Year Collection of merchandise benefiting six Manhattan Chinatown businesses and a nonprofit.

    It's estimated that businesses in the area have lost 50 percent to 70 percent of their revenue since the pandemic — and the subsequent xenophobia — began in January 2020.

    Alice Liu is a second-generation proprietor of Grand Tea & Imports, which got a grant from Welcome to Chinatown's Longevity Fund in September.

    "It was really exciting and offered a lot of hope, because being a Chinatown small business, we've been closed out of a lot of mainstream funding," said Liu, whose family business is featured in the calendar and the merchandise collection. "Having [a relief program] made for us, by us and administered in a way that small businesses in Chinatown are used to creates a lot more trust."

    Another New York-based group, Send Chinatown Love, has created an illustrated map of Asian American-owned restaurants and gift shops for its Lunar New Year Crawl through Chinatowns in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

    Other organizations have also taken design-forward approaches to supporting local businesses.

    Save Our Chinatowns and Good Good Eatz teamed up to produce "Have You Eaten Yet?" a recipe zine and red envelope bundle to benefit Yuen Hop Noodle Co., Cam Anh Deli and Green Fish Seafood Market in Chinatown in Oakland, California.


    IMAGE: 'Have You Eaten Yet?'
    "Have You Eaten Yet?" — a recipe zine created by Save Our Chinatowns and Good Good Eatz — benefits businesses in Oakland's Chinatown.Courtesy of Save Our Chinatowns
    Daphne Wu of Oakland, a Save Our Chinatowns volunteer who conceptualized, wrote and edited the zine, said, "A recipe zine is a way to inspire folks to go out and support these businesses and also get to know the owners a bit more personally and intimately."

    The printed copies sold out within two hours of the zine's launch Jan. 25, but digital copies are available with an online donation.

    Wu said people feel deep connections to Oakland Chinatown because "there are so few places in the world where us third-culture kids can feel at home and a sense of belonging."

    But even with the support of grassroots initiatives like Save Our Chinatowns, which raised $40,000 last year, Chinatowns in San Francisco and Oakland must fight to stay open because of Covid-19-related closings and racially motivated fears.

    Business owners like Anh Nguyen of Cam Anh Deli, who arrived in Oakland in the early 1990s as a refugee from Vietnam, are dedicated to moving forward.

    "A lot of people stepped up — it's just incredible," said Nguyen, who contributed a recipe for lemongrass tofu to the zine, which was illustrated by six artists, including Save Our Chinatowns founder Jocelyn Tsaih. "I want to tell people Chinatown is a safe place to be and we will go on and continue to serve the neighborhood and community as long as we can."

    Traditional fundraising events are also underway for Lunar New Year.

    The 43rd-anniversary L.A. Chinatown Firecracker 5/10K, Kiddie Run, Bike Ride & Paw'er Dog Walk on Feb. 27 is being held virtually this year, giving participants the flexibility to complete their events at the time and date of their choosing.

    It is one of the largest and longest-running Lunar New Year charity runs in the nation, and 100 percent of net proceeds are reinvested locally.

    Similarly, the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center is holding a free Lunar New Year Virtual 5K/1 Mile Run/Walk, "We Love Boston Chinatown," Feb. 12-15.

    The organization encourages entrants to run or walk in Chinatown and patronize its spots in the process. Prizes will include gift certificates from Boston Chinatown restaurants to encourage spending in the community.

    Social service agencies are also using digital spaces to encourage donations — and visits — to Chinatown.

    The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, or PCDC, plans a virtual Chinese New Year celebration Feb. 26 to benefit programs for Chinatown.

    PCDC's Ai Love Chinatown campaign, which was launched in August to support small businesses affected by Covid-19, has produced a video series that spotlights Asian American-owned businesses.

    "We wanted to bring that personality to people's attention to show there's real people standing behind these businesses, and they're hurting, but they're still taking the time to take care of their customers and workers," PCDC Project Manager Lamei Zhang said.

    Tam of Welcome to Chinatown said the immense nostalgia and love people have for the historic neighborhood is why people are eager to volunteer and donate money to help.

    "We always say we hope when we have kids of our own, that they get to know the Chinatown that we grew up experiencing," Tam said. "People can't fathom the idea of Chinatown disappearing."
    I went through SF Chinatown early in the pandemic last year, before the lockdowns, and I've never seen it so barren...like a ghost town.

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  5. #20
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    Last stand...

    THE LAST STAND OF S.F. CHINATOWN'S STORIED BANQUET HALLS
    These restaurants have been Chinatown’s heart and soul. What happens to S.F. if they disappear?
    By Melissa Hung | Feb. 14, 2021 | San Francisco Chronicle


    ON A SATURDAY AFTERNOON in late December, Bill Lee walks through his empty restaurant in Chinatown. Though the tables are draped with white tablecloths, the dining room functions more as a storage space. Wedged between tables are stacks of red-cushioned dining chairs. Signage, featuring large photos of the restaurant’s dishes, leans against a wall. A lone bottle of hand sanitizer sits on a dining table. A year ago, the scene looked very different — the chatter of locals and tourists filled the room as they feasted on Cantonese and Chinese American dishes.

    Opened in 1920 at 631 Grant Ave., Far East Cafe is one of San Francisco Chinatown’s oldest restaurants. Much of its decor remains unchanged from its early days: oil paintings depicting historical scenes from Guangdong (where many early Chinese immigrants hailed from), large hanging lanterns from the province, and a set of dark wood-paneled private booths behind red curtains. Buttons for summoning wait staff remain on the walls, though the bell system no longer works.

    Far East Cafe is also one of Chinatown’s last remaining large-scale banquet halls, serving as a gathering space for the neighborhood’s many family associations and civic organizations. The dwindling number of Chinatown banquet halls worries community leaders, who fear their loss could devastate the culture and traditions of a community already threatened by gentrification. Ten years ago, there were five: Empress of China, Far East Cafe, Four Seas, Gold Mountain, and New Asia Restaurant. Now, only Far East and New Asia remain.

    Lee, 77, who took over Far East in 1999 and added the second floor for banquets, is only the third owner — along with nine other shareholders — in its history. Over the years, thousands of banquets have taken place there. Lee had planned to throw his own event: a 100th anniversary celebration of the restaurant in the fall of 2020. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdowns that began in March. Now, instead, sitting in the dim dining room, he contemplates shutting down Far East for good.

    “I tell you, I love this restaurant. I have never spent so much time in one place,” Lee says. “I spent 20 years for this restaurant.”


    Far East Cafe owner Bill Lee sits at the bar while his daughter Kathy Lee, the restaurant’s manager, makes him a drink. Far East Cafe is one of the few remaining banquet halls in S.F.’s Chinatown, but Lee is unsure how long he can keep it running. | Jessica Christian / The Chronicle
    While the entire restaurant industry is struggling for survival, the pandemic has hit especially hard in Chinatown, which saw business drop months before shelter-in-place began. Lee is down to four employees from the 50 or so full- and part-time staff he once employed. He has tried to make a go at outdoor dining. Volunteers had been putting finishing touches on a new parklet structure, painted red and trimmed in yellow to match the restaurant. But then the city halted outdoor dining on Dec. 6 in the midst of a coronavirus surge. Lee felt defeated. He didn’t want to close, but he was operating at a deep loss, even after he and his daughter Kathy Lee, the manager, stopped taking their salaries.

    Two weeks later, on Dec. 22, news broke that Far East would close permanently on Dec. 31. The next day Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents Chinatown, held a press conference in front of the restaurant, telling Lee that help was on the way. The week before, nine community organizations had written to Mayor London Breed, warning that the situation in Chinatown was dire and asking the city to provide millions in financial aid, as it had done for the Latino community. Peskin and Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer introduced legislation proposing $1.9 million in relief for Chinatown restaurants. Peskin urged Lee to hang on. Lee shrugged his shoulders and seemed to laugh, perhaps wearily, from behind his face mask.

    But the speed of government bureaucracy is too slow for Lee. Nearly a month passed before the Board of Supervisors approved the legislation on Jan. 19, another month where he owed tens of thousands more dollars in rent, utilities and more. The city funds will help Chinatown restaurants, including Lee’s Far East, survive for a few months. But then what? Will enough people be vaccinated by then that COVID-19 infections slow sufficiently for businesses to reopen? Or will the situation worsen again?

    And there is a larger question: If the banquet halls go, what will become of Chinatown?
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  6. #21
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    continued from previous post


    Clockwise from top left: Gogo Wu and Lillian Lin at the Chinese Real Estate Association of America Chinese New Year and Installation Banquet held at New Asia restaurant on February 21, 2020; Kuo Wah restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown in an undated photo; a Lunar New Year banquet held by the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC) that was attended by, from far right, future Vice President Kamala Harris, the Rev. Norman Fong of the CCDC, Jane Kim, David Chiu, Phil Ting, the late Jeff Adachi, the late Mayor Ed Lee, the late Rose Pak and CCDC founder Gordon Chin; an image from an old postcard showing the interior of the Empress of China, a banquet hall in San Francisco’s Chinatown. | Photos By Frank Jang And Chinatown Community Development Center
    HUNDREDS OF BANQUETS take place in San Francisco Chinatown every year — family association gatherings, weddings, red egg and ginger parties, political fundraisers and galas for nonprofits. More modest events might book a smaller banquet hall like Imperial Palace. But the big ones can fill up all 680 seats at Far East Cafe or the 1,000 at New Asia. (Back in the day, some banquets were so large that they filled multiple locations.) A Chinatown banquet, much like Chinatown itself, is a crowded affair, with guests seated snugly at 10-tops as waiters in white shirts and vests deploy platters upon platters across the dining room. The dishes are abundant; there is always food left over.

    The first quarter of the year is an especially busy time because of Chinese New Year, which typically occurs in late January or early February. Because there aren’t enough bookings available close to the holiday to accommodate everyone, New Year banquets can stretch into April and May. Reservations need to be made a year in advance, sometimes two.

    A Chinatown banquet is not just a party with a parade of family-style dishes. For a community that has endured segregation, racist immigration exclusion that kept families apart and threats of displacement, banquets are loud, bountiful, collective affirmations of community resilience.

    “This is a community that traditionally has been very close, very networked, and very organized in certain senses and I think that that connection has been one of the critical elements of why this community has been a successful immigrant gateway for so long,” says Malcolm Yeung, executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, one of the organizations that penned the letter to the city asking for help.

    Forced to fend for itself, Chinatown long ago established an ecosystem of mutual aid through its family and district associations and its social service and advocacy organizations — a network that still exists today. New immigrants know they can come to Chinatown for resources and opportunities. “All of that is based on the connection and cultural fabric that we’ve been able to weave in this community,” Yeung said. And community banquets are the primary mechanism for celebrating and maintaining those connections, he says.

    And while food is always important — each dish in a banquet is imbued with meaning — it’s not about the meal, but the whole experience of Chinatown. About being reminded, even if on a subconscious level, that this is where the community began.

    Chinatown banquets also showcase political empowerment. Laurene Wu McClain, 77, an attorney who grew up in Chinatown, attended banquets in the 1950s and ’60s with her father, the head of their family association and a co-founder of San Francisco’s Chinese Historical Society. She remembers fondly the sound of hundreds of people cracking open watermelon seeds with their teeth at the start of banquets, and the bottles of Belfast Sparkling Cider on every table.

    She also remembers how, against the backdrop of the Cold War, when relations between the U.S. and a newly communist China were antagonistic, the community courted politicians and government officials. Though most Chinese Americans were anti-communist, they feared they’d be viewed as the enemy and incarcerated, as Japanese Americans had been during World War II. They made outreach efforts to the wider American society through events like the Chinese New Year Parade and banquets.

    “Sometimes it was the first time anyone would have seen the Caucasian mayor of San Francisco or seen in person one of the members of the Board of Supervisors,” she says of guests at banquets. “That was part of the assimilation process, that, yes, we are our own ethnic group, but we do belong here. We belong here and we invite you to join us in our celebrations.”

    Today, many working-class families who started out in Chinatown have advanced to the middle class and live in the avenues or suburbs of the East Bay and Peninsula where there are newer, more spacious Chinese restaurants and 99 Ranch Markets with well-stocked aisles and hot deli counters. There’s less reason to come to Chinatown and hassle with parking just to buy groceries and a roast duck. Younger generations often prefer getting married in Napa rather than throwing a traditional Chinese wedding banquet.

    Yet banquets remain critical to the culture and plexus of Chinatown, connecting community members to the power brokers of the city — and to each other.

    “Chinatown is the social-political capital of the Chinese community,” says David Ho, 43, a political consultant. “People don’t go book tables in Cupertino and expect 1,000 Chinese to show up. That’s just not going to happen. First, they don’t have the facilities for it. Second, only Chinatown can get that kind of audience and attention from politicians.”

    Ho would know. As a Chinatown activist and a political consultant, he has thrown his share of banquets over the years.

    “It’s really about community coming together. It’s about seeing old friends and new friends, and a tie to where we came from, to the immigrant legacy,” says Mabel Teng, a community advocate and former San Francisco supervisor. “Some of us crossed the ocean five decades ago, but some crossed the Pacific five years ago, and we are a community of intergenerational legacy, and also intergenerational leadership.”

    After the pandemic ended banquets at the New Asia restaurant in S.F.’s Chinatown, its owner converted it into a neighborhood grocery store. | Jessica Christian / The Chronicle
    NEW ASIA RESTAURANT, established in 1987 at 772 Pacific Ave., is a newcomer compared to Far East Cafe, and looks it with its high ceiling, shiny gold pillars and multicolor strip lights. A pushcart-style dim sum parlor by day, it is Chinatown’s largest banquet hall. When banquets began being canceled over coronavirus concerns in January 2020, Hon So, the owner since 2000, grew so anxious he couldn’t sleep.

    So, 61, canceled any supply orders he could and stored what had already arrived in freezers. It would just be for a few months, he thought. In July, though, he had to throw it all out, trashing cases of shrimp, beef, chicken, an estimated $100,000 worth of food. Insurance would not cover the loss.

    “When I was throwing things out, I was thinking, what will I do in the immediate future? What do I do with a big place like this?” So says in Cantonese. “You have no income, but you still have your bills. The income is not just for me, but for my family, my workers. What can I do to yield income for everyone?”

    He thought about how in this new reality of the pandemic, people were lining up to buy groceries and cook at home.

    Over two weeks in July, with the help of friends, he cleared tables to make way for shelving and freezers. The next month, New Asia reopened as a grocery store, which allowed So to retain 10 to 15 jobs, a fraction of the 40- to 50-member staff he had before. New Asia’s proximity to Stockton Street, where many neighborhood markets are located, helped bring in foot traffic.

    On a recent Saturday, shoppers browsed the selection of produce, snacks and frozen foods. On the stage, two steps up from the dance floor, packages of toilet paper and rice noodles were stacked on repurposed dining tables. The character for double happiness, a symbol of marriage, was on the wall above them.

    “This is the only market with crystal lights,” So said wryly, referring to New Asia’s chandeliers.
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  7. #22
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    continued from previous post


    Then: On Feb. 20, 2020, before S.F. announced shelter-in-place, New Asia restaurant in S.F.’s Chinatown was the scene of a typical busy banquet, in this case for the Coalition of Asian American Government Employees (CAAGE). The pandemic put an end to such gatherings. | Frank Jang

    Now: Shoppers browse the aisles inside the New Asia restaurant. in S.F.’s Chinatown neighborhood. As banquets were canceled at the start of the pandemic, New Asia’s owner converted the grand restaurant into a neighborhood grocery store. | Jessica Christian / The Chronicle
    Even if his market brings in enough to survive the pandemic, New Asia will be displaced for several years. In 2017, after much advocacy by the late Chinatown activist Rose Pak, the city bought the property to develop it into affordable housing. The plan is for the restaurant to return to the ground floor of a new building, but construction will take at least three years, and the process has barely begun. Proposals from developers were due to the city last month.

    Still, New Asia is the rare Chinatown banquet hall granted a possibility of return. Down the street, Meriwa is now medical offices. In 2016, Mister Jiu’s replaced Four Seas, a popular venue since the 1960s. A year later the food emporium China Live, which contains two restaurants (one with a $185 tasting menu), retail and a bar, opened in what was once Gold Mountain. Empress by Boon was slated to open in 2020 in the iconic Empress of China space, but the pandemic has put a pause on that.

    While these new upscale restaurants with Michelin stars and modern takes on Chinese cuisines add a culinary sheen to the neighborhood, they attract a different clientele: a monied crowd from outside who Uber in, eat and leave. They are out of range for residents and for community groups used to paying $40 to $80 a head for an eight-course banquet.

    To be sure, Chinatown has long courted visitors. In a segregated San Francisco, attracting visitors to the neighborhood was key for economic survival and tourism remains important. But a healthy Chinatown maintains a balance between businesses for visitors and its immigrant residents.

    “There’s room for Mister Jiu’s and China Live,” says Vincent Pan, 48, the co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action. I know Pan well. We have collaborated on several projects, including on some work for his organization. “We support having a mix of high-end and hole-in-the wall mom-and-pops,” Pan says. “But the real risk is you lose this one piece and it’s hard to bring it back.”


    When the civil rights nonprofit learned that the Empress of China was closing in 2014, it hosted one last banquet that December just for the sake of it. It was one of the last, if not the very last, banquets at the Empress, says Pan.

    “We know from other North American Chinatowns, whether it’s Philadelphia or Manhattan, that there’s always a risk of being subsumed by the neighboring financial districts,” Pan says. “And one of the key anti-displacement strategies that has been effective is to have the Chinatowns serve as cultural anchors that bring in a diverse mix of economic support. Banquets are a flagship of that.”

    Banquet halls have played a core role in the Chinatown economy, from providing new immigrants with starter jobs to sourcing from local vendors. Far East Cafe partners with Charity Cultural Services Center to train and employ restaurant workers. Banquets summon the diaspora, whose members tend to make the most of their stop in Chinatown by doing some shopping.

    That’s why Chinatown leaders want to preserve the landmark Empress of China building for community access. When John Yee, a real estate investor, bought the six-story building in 2017, he alarmed many with his initial plans for tech offices. Though Yee grew up in Chinatown, he angered many in the community in 1999 when he tried to evict a building full of low-income tenants. Malcolm Yeung filed an appeal with the San Francisco Planning Department in an attempt to pressure Yee into discussions over the Empress. Yeung would like to see affordable community banquets return to the space, but Yee says the banquet prices Yeung wants are not feasible.

    On Jan. 27, Yeung’s appeal was denied in a 3-2 vote, resulting in another banquet hall lost to the community.

    The upstairs banquet hall of Far East Cafe in S.F.’s Chinatown is shuttered. Far East Cafe, which opened in 1920, is one of the few banquet halls remaining in Chinatown. | Jessica Christian / The Chronicle
    THE YEAR OF THE OX IS UPON US. Another Lunar New Year in a pandemic, another season of no banquets. Organizations like Chinese for Affirmative Action have held their annual galas on Zoom instead, delivering catered meals to re-create the experience of eating together. Without its usual gatherings, Chinatown has been eerily quiet for the past year. Even with sections of Grant Avenue closed to traffic on the weekends to encourage shopping, the streets are mostly empty, a whisper of the usual hustle.

    The question on the minds of many in Chinatown is what will be left when the pandemic finally ends and people come out of isolation clamoring to socialize?

    After Chinatown leaders asked the mayor for $11.5 million in financial aid, they met with city officials about reviving the Chinatown Community Development Center’s Feed + Fuel program in partnership with SF New Deal. The program, which ran in spring 2020, paid 34 Chinatown restaurants to cook meals for the neighborhood’s most vulnerable residents living in public housing and single-room occupancy hotels. These SRO residents share communal kitchens and bathrooms, which makes social distancing impossible.

    The center hopes that the $1.9 million relief ordinance, plus $500,000 from the Human Services Agency and $100,000 of the center’s own funds can eventually help 70 restaurants over an eight-week period. If the nonprofit can raise an additional $1 million from individuals and foundations, it will extend the program to 15 weeks.

    “People don’t go book tables in Cupertino and expect 1,000 Chinese to show up. That’s just not going to happen. First, they don’t have the facilities for it. Second, only Chinatown can get that kind of audience and attention from politicians.”
    DAVID HO, 43, A POLITICAL CONSULTANT

    Feed + Fuel 2.0 launched Jan. 18 with 10 restaurants. Far East Cafe, which participated in the first iteration, joined the new program on Jan. 25, cooking 300 meals a week for $3,000. Far East also participates in similar programs, but the money it receives from these programs doesn’t cover costs — not even close. Lee says he needs to bring in $4,000 a day to keep a restaurant as large as his afloat. One reason he’s been able to last this long is because of an understanding landlord, the Ying On Benevolent Association, of which he is a member.

    The family associations that own buildings in Chinatown are not interested in selling them, says Doug Mei, 40, a paramedic firefighter who grew up in a Chinatown SRO and who now works in the neighborhood fire station.

    “The reason why they keep them is so they can continue to take care of the new immigrants that come here and continue to carry on the legacy of all those who worked so hard to build this community for us,” he says.

    The city’s help is too little, too late, and Asian Americans have been forgotten, he says, a sentiment that many in Chinatown share. Where are the loan programs for Asian-owned small businesses, like those the city established for other minority communities, he asks. “We take so much pride as a city in how diverse we are. But we need to take action to preserve that diversity. It’s important that we protect every community and we give every community fair resources all around,” Mei says.

    Leaders worry about the elders who rely on dim sum parlors and banquets to stay active with friends. They worry that these restaurants will fade away like the neighborhood’s once-vibrant theaters.

    “There’s got to be some adverse impact on the psychology and well-being of the community,” says David Ho, the political consultant.
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    continued from previous post


    Far East Cafe owner Bill Lee poses for a portrait in the main dining room of Far East Cafe. “I tell you, I love this restaurant. I have never spent so much time in one place,” he said. | Jessica Christian / The Chronicle
    ON THE LAST SATURDAY IN JANUARY, after a week of stormy rains, the sun came out, bringing with it more foot traffic in Chinatown. Outdoor dining reopened and waitstaff wove through pedestrians on narrow sidewalks to take orders. Outside Far East Cafe, Mei and another volunteer worked on the restaurant’s parklet, cutting wood with a circular saw. Lee and his daughter Kathy, who is the restaurant’s manager, carted produce through the dining room into the kitchen.

    During a late lunch break, Lee recounted how Far East Cafe has given many new immigrants who didn’t know English their first jobs in the U.S. Back in 1967, he was that new immigrant. Closing the restaurant would hurt those who arrive in the future, but he wasn’t sure how long he could stay open. What was the point of working just to keep losing money?

    “It’s very difficult,” Lee said in a mix of Cantonese and English. “We really don’t want to close, but a fact is a fact. We don’t have money.”

    Melissa Hung is a Bay Area writer from Texas with ties to San Francisco Chinatown. Email: culture@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @melissahungtx

    This story was translated into Chinese for The Chronicle by Joyce Chen.
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    Continuing on

    Far East Cafe owners decide to keep 100-year-old S.F. Chinatown restaurant alive

    Janelle Bitker
    March 3, 2021
    Updated: March 3, 2021 4:47 p.m.

    Far East Cafe owner Bill Lee poses for a portrait in one of the signature booths inside the main dining room of Far East Cafe in the Chinatown neighborhood of San Francisco, Calif. Thursday, January 28, 2021. Far East Cafe is one of two remaining banquet halls in Chinatown and is still being stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic with the threat of becoming extinct.Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

    Far East Cafe opens for indoor dining today and will expand its hours to five days a week, marking a return to form for San Francisco Chinatown’s 100-year-old banquet restaurant that nearly shut down at the end of 2020.

    The owners of Far East Cafe have officially decided to continue operating the restaurant, as first reported by Sing Tao Daily and confirmed to The Chronicle by the Chinatown Community Development Center. Of course, in the volatile restaurant industry there is no such thing as permanence, but it marks a quick and significant reversal for a restaurant that announced it would close in December.

    The restaurant will open indoors at 25% capacity in addition to offering outdoor dining and takeout for its generously portioned Cantonese and Chinese American dishes like wonton soup and egg foo young.

    As one of Chinatown’s last-remaining banquet halls, there was an outpour of community support for Far East Cafe when its pending closure was first reported. Individuals donated money. The restaurant started making meals for vulnerable neighbors through a new partnership between nonprofit S.F. New Deal and Chinatown Community Development Center, with $1.9 million in funding from the city. And the restaurant’s landlord offered 50% off of rent, in addition to six free months last year, according to Sing Tao Daily.



    Far East Cafe. Indoor dining, outdoor dining and takeout. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday-Sunday. 631 Grant Ave., San Francisco.
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  10. #25
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    Empress by Boon


    The interior of Empress by Boon
    Empress by Boon
    Empress by Boon to Open June 18 With Prix Fixe Cantonese Menu
    It’s the new occupant of SF’s landmark Empress of China

    by Ellen Fort @ellenfork May 10, 2021, 11:39am PDT

    Chinatown’s iconic Empress of China closed its doors seven years ago, leaving a massive hole in Chinatown’s dining scene. Once the scene of large-scale banquets and celebrations in dining rooms looking over the bay, it will now serve as the home of Empress by Boon, a Cantonese restaurant helmed by Chef Ho Chee Boon, set to open June 18.

    Formerly the international culinary director for the clubby, upscale Hakkasan chain (San Francisco’s downtown location closed a year ago this month), Boon hopes to bring back the elegance of the Empress in a more modern dining room, while honoring the legacy of the historic space.

    The new Empress will open with a prix fixe menu before debuting an a la carte menu, creating Cantonese dishes with ingredients from the restaurant’s organic farm in Gilroy. Like Hakkasan, cocktails, wine, and tea will be a large component; Boon has brought in a team of hospitality pros, many of which came from Hakkasan, to lead those drink programs.

    The restaurant is one of several higher-end restaurants to open in Chinatown in the past few years, including Mister Jiu’s and China Live, opening in the dusty spaces of shuttered banquet halls. That dwindling number of banquet halls has been cause for concern for many in the neighborhood, though as George Chen, chef-owner of China Live and Eight Tables noted last year, there just isn’t as much interest in massive banquets from younger generations of Chinese Americans.

    Regardless, the opening of Empress by Boon, China Live, and others has largely spared the neighborhood from worse fates: After Empress of China closed in 2014, real estate developers, including the building’s current owner John Yee, posited plans to turn the top floor into tech offices, or even a hotel. The Empress has dodged the bullet of tech monotony at least, and as Yee told the Chron last year, there’s hope for new jobs and tourist dollars on the way.

    Empress by Boon will open at 838 Grant Avenue on June 18, starting with dinner service Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The opening menu will be prix fixe only, but with more a la carte options to come.
    I have so many memories of various banquets at Empress of China. I hope Empress by Boon can uphold that tradition.
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    Reopening the Great Star

    I must revisit soon.
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    Reopening Chinatown's Great Star Theater is a gamble for this couple. It could pay off for them and community

    Photo of Heather Knight
    Heather Knight
    June 9, 2021
    Updated: June 9, 2021 4 a.m.

    Great Star Theater in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, June 7, 2021. Roger and Alice Pincombe have taken over the nearly abandoned 96-year-old theater in Chinatown and restored it. Photos by Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

    San Francisco’s small businesses suffered greatly over the past 15 months. So did nonprofits. So did performing arts venues. So did movie theaters. So did Chinatown.

    So it might seem like the worst possible time to start a new venture that combines all of those into one hugely risky gamble, but Alice Chu and Roger Pincombe are betting big. And here’s hoping their efforts pay off.

    This month, the married couple, who live in an apartment in Twin Peaks and work as software engineers for Salesforce, will reopen the Great Star Theater on Jackson Street after signing a 10-year lease. They’ve formed a nonprofit called, fittingly, the Great Star Theater, and have sunk $150,000 of their own money and donations into the massive project of restoring the theater to its former glory.

    They’ll have a soft opening this weekend and plan to hold an official launch complete with lion dancers in the street on June 18.

    “We’re excited to open and put people back to work and start that community back up,” Pincombe, 33, said of giving the city another venue for live arts groups that lost nearly all their revenue during the pandemic. “There’s always something up in the air, but it always comes together so beautifully.”

    Pincombe’s face lights up when he talks about the theater, and his goal is to make it his full-time work. Chu, 31, who moved from China’s Henan province 10 years ago to obtain her master’s degree in computer science at the University of Southern California, seems to be the practical one and said she’s definitely staying at Salesforce.

    “Slow down! Slow down!” she kept telling her husband as he chattered excitedly while giving me a tour of the theater the other day. “She isn’t done writing!”

    They showed off the new red upholstery on the theater’s 410 seats after the droppings from birds nesting overhead proved disastrous to the previous seat covers. They showed off lovely bathrooms with touchless faucets and art and calligraphy made in China by Chu’s parents hanging on the walls.

    They showed off a huge, used movie screen they installed. Eighty-five new fire sprinklers they added since the old ones were 50 years out-of-date in terms of code compliance. A traditional Chinese altar where actors can pray before going on stage. A downstairs lounge for actors that’s decorated with a mural painted by Chu.

    “We’re honoring the history of the theater, but also making it cleaner and more comfortable,” Pincombe said. “If you could have seen what this place looked like in November when we took over. There have been a lot of last-minute headaches.”

    The theater opened in 1925 as a venue for Chinese opera singers, and Pincombe said Bruce Lee spent time there as a kid watching his dad, Lee Hoi-chuen, a Cantonese opera singer, perform.

    But those wondrous years are long gone — and the theater had become dirty, derelict and abandoned. Sporadic movies, plays and operas showed over the years, but attendance required being OK with revolting bathrooms with no hot water, thick layers of dust and general grunginess.

    The lowest point came in 2015 when the body of a 31-year-old woman was found inside the theater, and police arrested the man who was leasing the space at the time on suspicion of homicide. Prosecutors did not file charges against him due to lack of evidence.


    Paul Nathan (left) and John Anaya prepare for the June 10th opening of Devil in the Deck at Great Star Theater in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, June 7, 2021. Roger and Alice Pincombe have taken over the nearly abandoned 96-year-old theater in Chinatown and restored it.Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle
    So nothing about the theater exactly screamed opportunity and excitement. Except to Chu and Pincombe.

    They attended a circus-themed show there on their first date after meeting on a Chinese dating app and reached out to its landlord to ask about managing the theater. She finally got back to them last summer, and they settled on lease terms in November. The couple declined to provide the details.

    They’re hoping their newly beautiful theater will draw crowds to the neighborhood who will go out to eat and drink after the shows — a mix of movies, plays, variety shows, circuses and others. Chinatown’s small businesses suffered during the pandemic not only from strict shelter-in-place rules, but also racism fueled by the former president’s insistence on calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” and even “kung flu.”

    The recent spate of violence against Asian people, particularly elders, has also negatively impacted Chinatown and its residents’ feelings of safely walking around their own neighborhood.

    Chu said she’s reached out to many local organizations to introduce herself and her husband and see how the couple and their new theater can help.

    Amy Lee, 29, is the founder of Revive SF Chinatown, a group that aims to bring young people back to Chinatown, holds weekly events to support neighborhood businesses and organizes larger events. Lee grew up near Chinatown and recently moved back to her childhood home.

    “Pre-pandemic, the businesses were surviving, but the atmosphere was obviously different,” she said. “It wasn’t as happy compared to when I was growing up. People don’t really come and stay — they come and do their errands and then go home to the Richmond and Sunset.”

    She said she’s “very excited” about the reopening of the Great Star Theater and already has tickets to one of its first shows.

    “Having a space that provides entertainment and something that brings joy is very important,” she said.


    An altar backstage at Great Star Theater in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, June 7, 2021. Roger and Alice Pincombe have taken over the nearly abandoned 96-year-old theater in Chinatown and restored it.Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle
    Jeff Lee, vice president of the 88-year-old Wah Ying Club, a Chinatown social group, said he remembers being the only one of his mother’s six kids growing up in Chinatown who would begrudgingly attend Chinese operas with her at the Great Star.

    “The condition was after the opera, she’d take me out for a midnight snack,” he said with a laugh.

    He said his group and the wider neighborhood is excited about the reopening.
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