Kathy Chin Leong
Owner of China Live
Life is different for all of us since the coronavirus slammed the planet. And in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in North America, we go behind the scenes to talk to business owners and service providers to find out how they are faring. George Chen, entrepreneur and owner of China Live, walks us through his current experience.
How has the virus changed Chinatown?
The Cantonese were the first ones to wear a mask and avoid going to restaurants. The large grocery stores are open and the small ones are closed because they do not want to deal with strangers.
How has it changed the nature of your restaurant?
In January our business was not affected too much, and we were down only 20 percent. By the middle of February, it was still okay. Later, when the government told everyone to be social distancing themselves, traffic started dropping daily. Since then, I’ve had to lay off 182 employees. We are still open for delivery service daily from 4-8 p.m. I kept on a skinny crew. Honestly, if you go completely dark, you will have a hard time to reopen. We are keeping the lights on. We are hanging in there until we see light at the end of the tunnel.
How has the pandemic impacted your plans for the future?
There is so much uncertainty and about what the hospitality industry is going to look like. There will be a change in the behavior of people and newer health demands. We will have to use a temperature gun when people come in. We will have to have contact tracing of every guest. We will have to track where people live, where they sat and they sat next to during the meal. Hopefully, when we reopen, people will come back to us. Before the virus, we were one of highest grossing restaurants in the Bay Area.
How has this impacted you personally?
I am still busy talking to vendors, writing checks, and getting to daily operations to get the food out. We are changing the business model and looking at different options. We have to anticipate what is going to happen in the future. We are looking at more distribution in Bay area in retail for our chili sauces and products. We are good at developing products and plan to make an area in our restaurant dedicated to it. It is going to be tough.
What will it take for Chinatown to recover?
We got to get politics out of it first and not blame Chinese for everything. We do not need more xenophobia. People from all countries is what makes America great. Next, businesses have to have the confidence to come back. People live here and shop here, and they have to come out and do things again. Last, tourism is awfully important, and the summer will be important business for us.