By Assunta Ng and Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
SEATTLE — “Many businesses are struggling to survive at best due to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic,” said Markham McIntyre, executive vice president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. He was commenting on Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent announcement of new restrictions on businesses and social gatherings for the next four weeks, as the state continues to combat a rising number of coronavirus cases.
As of 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 18, restaurants and bars are limited to to-go service and outdoor dining with tables seating no more than five people.
The Northwest Asian Weekly spoke to owners of mom-and-pop and big businesses, in and outside Seattle, on the challenges they face. Some restaurateurs were puzzled and angry by the governor’s move.
A spokesperson for China Harbor Restaurant, who didn’t want to be identified, said the new restrictions are “too drastic and sudden.” She questioned the timing of the announcement, right after the election. Inslee was elected for his third term as governor, winning by a landslide.
With a seating capacity of 600, China Harbor has invested in new chefs and equipment to include Cantonese-style dim sum lunch in hopes of getting customers to return.
“It’s not easy for us to reopen with dim sum. It requires a lot of planning to hire new people for the restaurant, and setup for the kitchen. Now, the governor came out and said, we need to do this right away. In the end, we will have wasted all our effort.”
T&T Seafood Restaurant, with more than 168 seating capacity, depends on its livelihood of dine-in customers, rather than takeout. Owner-chef Tony Mann said, “With a heavy heart, I give my staff notice of reduced hours [on Nov. 17].” From a staff of close to 20 before COVID, he could retain only less than half.
“I was in the hospital twice this year due to stress from COVID policies affecting my business. I have too many worries,” said Mann. T&T has been operating in Edmonds for almost two decades.
“My business was about to recover this month with the 50% dining in, and I was hopeful. But now…” he said. “Takeout only cannot pay my rent and operating costs.” When asked if he could get help from his landlord, he said it’s useless.
Under the new restrictions, weddings and funerals can still occur, but ceremonies are now limited to no more than 30 people, and receptions are prohibited. Big restaurants depend on parties and weddings. China Harbor told us that the new restrictions will wipe away the majority of its business.
“Reservations for weddings are made way in advance,” the spokesperson said. “Yes, it’s a lot of work for us to call every customer and tell them we have to cancel.” China Harbor also closed its bar since the beginning of COVID in March, and has never reopened.
Harry Chan, of Tai Tung Restaurant in the Chinatown-International District, echoed the same sentiment.
“This will definitely affect us not to allow dine-in.“
A month ago, Chan told the Asian Weekly that since reopening for dining, his business had greatly improved, and he was delighted that Tai Tung attracted many new customers. The restaurant’s design is adaptable for social distancing, with partitions and sections in its layout.
“I hope customers will support us by ordering takeout instead,” Chan said. “I am not upset about this. We have to go along with the new policy to keep our community safe.”
“We feel helpless,” said owner of a mom-and-pop noodle restaurant in Chinatown. She also didn’t want to be identified. “There’s nothing we can do. Since we opened for dine-in, our business has been cut by 50%. Now without dine-in, that’s another reduction in our business. We have many employees working for us for years, they need to work to pay rent. We are doing our best not to reduce staff. But there’s not that much work if we don’t have dine-in. I can do everything myself. I just wish we won’t lose much money in our business so we can keep all our employees.”
Harbor City Restaurant has been able to transition its business model to rely on takeout only. Owner Han Ma seemed to be at ease with the news of no dining in.
“The restrictions would not affect us much because 70% to 80% of our business are now takeouts. I hope this shutdown of restaurants will be short and things will be back to normal soon. The shutdown is only four weeks, and we intend to keep all our staff,” said Ma. “It’s pointless to tell our employees to stay home for a month and then come back to work.” The restaurant seats 150 people and has a regular following in the morning for dim sum.
One customer decided to do his share to help businesses. Hang-Ping Chen was able to fit in dine-in visits at three restaurants in the last two days before the shutdown. He said, “The indoor dining shutdown will be difficult for restaurants, especially the workers. It is good to enjoy indoor dining before the shutdown. Hopefully, things will improve in four weeks.”
“Business owners in Chinatown-ID understand the need for these new restrictions… but restrictions should go hand in hand with support so that we don’t lose long-time, family-owned businesses forever,” said Monisha Singh, executive director of Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA). She said CIDBIA is currently fundraising for the fourth round of its Chinatown-ID Restaurants and other Small Business Relief Fund, which will fund another round of grants to businesses in Chinatown-ID.
“While the fund has been a relief to businesses, there needs to be more substantial financial support from the city, county, state, and federal government available now,” Singh said.
McIntyre said lawmakers need to “make more funding available to businesses, and we are encouraged by the $50 million commitment [Inslee] made.” The $50 million in federal aid will be distributed in the form of grants and loans as soon as possible.
McIntyre said, “We are pressing for more aid at every level of government, especially during this stage when businesses have to restrict activities… Businesses and their workers are going into this third wave without many of the programs that Congress authorized earlier this year—programs that helped many businesses weather the earlier restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.”
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.