It’s a historic year for Far East Cafe, but it will also be its last.
The Chinatown restaurant was going to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020 — a massive milestone for a local business that’s survived a whole century on Grant Avenue. But owner Bill Lee told Wind Newspaper that the restaurant plans on closing Dec. 31.
The reasons are obvious: The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the local food industry. On an average day, Far East Cafe gets about 30 takeout orders, according to Wind Newspaper.
But Far East Cafe has also faced a challenge unique to Chinese American businesses during the coronavirus era. Well before the pandemic took hold of the United States, Chinatown was already suffering from lost revenue due to a lack of foot traffic. When the virus was raging in Wuhan, China, tourism in Chinatown dropped in January and February, despite no signs of the virus in the neighborhood.
As the nation saw a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, San Francisco’s Chinatown saw a drop in business during Lunar New Year, arguably one of their most crucial revenue-making times of the year. Wing Pau, a manager at Far East Cafe, told SF Weekly in February that over 200 reserved tables were cancelled at the start of 2020, causing the restaurant to lose about $100,000 in revenue.
And that was before shelter-in-place started.
Chinatown leaders have been calling on the city to provide financial relief to its businesses, arguing that the “impact of COVID-19 on San Francisco’s Chinatown started early and has been particularly severe,” the SF Chronicle reported. On Tuesday, supervisors Aaron Peskin and Sandra Lee Fewer proposed the Chinatown Restaurant Support and Food Security program, a $1.9 million plan that, if passed, would pay the neighborhood’s restaurants to cook for SRO residents, many of whom are elders and families enduring food insecurity. The legislation could be a game-changer for Far East Cafe.
In Wind Newspaper, Lee criticized Mayor London Breed’s alleged lack of support for the Chinatown community.
“Mayor Breed has offered fundings and resources to the African and Latino communities, but there have been very few services offered by the City to save the businesses in Chinatown,” Lee said. “We are struggling very hard to survive.”