Feature: Once buzzing, Chinese restaurants struggle amid U.S. COVID-19 lockdown

Source: Xinhua| 2020-05-29 02:58:53|Editor: huaxia
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File photo taken on May 22, 2020 shows Chili Talk owner Fiona Ding in her restaurant in Rockville, Maryland, the United Sates. The nation's restaurant industry has 1 million restaurants and nearly 16 million employees, and many locations are dealing with the uncertainty brought by the government's response to the COVID-19. (Photo by Matthew Rusling/Xinhua)

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, May 28 (Xinhua) -- Famous for its authentic dumplings, East Dumpling House, a Chinese restaurant in Rockville, U.S. state of Maryland, was thriving just a couple of months ago.

But all that has changed.

Now, owner Hong Ren sits in a darkened dining room that was once buzzing with activity, trying to figure out how to sustain the lockdown that has grounded the nation's economy to a halt.

"It's very slow. We just do takeout," Ren told Xinhua.

When asked how long her business can go on like this, she said, "I'm really not sure. We see every week how to do the next week." Planning ahead is difficult under the current circumstances, she noted.

Ren is not alone. The nation's restaurant industry has 1 million restaurants and nearly 16 million employees, and many locations are dealing with the uncertainty brought by the government's response to the novel coronavirus.

In metro D.C., Maryland and Virginia -- the so-called DMV -- governments have banned dine-in services, causing restaurants to switch to takeout.

Peter Chang, a well-known Chinese restaurateur, told Xinhua that his business is now doing only 20 percent of what it did before the lockdown, as he is only allowed to offer takeout.

The lockdown came right in the middle of a burgeoning D.C.-area trend, that of higher-end Chinese restaurants setting up in the area, which cater to customers willing to pay more.

Chang's Q by Peter Chang and Mama Chang were both part of that trend, but he said he will not be able to open any new restaurants until everything is back to normal.

Chili Talk owner Fiona Ding said her restaurant is still paying its employees, but cannot make a profit on takeout alone.

Tables and chairs have been stacked in a corner, replaced with X marks, each six feet apart, indicating where customers should stand to maintain social distancing.

The place is locally famous for authentic Sichuan flavor, and even natives of such Chinese cities as Chengdu say it tastes just like their hometown. But for now, people will have to enjoy the cuisine from home.

"Our customers still love us. They order food now through apps," Ding told Xinhua.

"The commission for the apps, it's super high," Ding said. "So we're not really making money, but I think we can get through this."

While the U.S. government has launched the Paycheck Protection Program, which costs taxpayers nearly 700 billion U.S. dollars, restaurateurs nationwide said the program does not meet their industry's unique needs.

The restaurant industry was projected to be worth nearly a trillion dollars in 2020, according to the National Restaurant Association. The trade group said the industry needs its own multi-billion-dollar bailout.

A lack of business has created additional problems, such as insurance companies that are not paying out and landlords who are demanding rent in spite of the crisis.

While most U.S. states are in the process of reopening, it may take some time before restaurants open at full capacity. However, some cities, in states including Virginia, Maryland, Indiana, Florida and Maine, are shutting down streets to make way for pedestrians and restaurant tables, not unlike parts of Paris and other European cities.


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