September 25, 2022

Protesters hold signs reading “Hate is a Virus” and “Stop Asian Hate” at the end of the “Violence Against Asians” rally in Washington Square Park, New York City on February 20, 2021.

Dia Dipasupil | Getty Images

Covid-19 has taken a terrible toll on the restaurant industry, which was devastated financially when the pandemic enforced restrictions on indoor eating and pushed Americans to eat more at home.

As of January, more than 1,000 restaurants in New York City had closed since the pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020, according to Eater.

However, Asian restaurants face an additional obstacle: racism.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been a number of racist incidents against the Asian-American community, from some officials referring to the virus as “kung flu” to the recent spike in unprovoked attacks in major cities like San Francisco and New York.

Last week, a 56-year-old Malaysian immigrant was on his way home from work when a person pushed him to the ground and repeatedly slapped him in the face at a New York subway station.

That means fear for Asian restaurant owners who are concerned about the safety of their operations and their employees.

To live in fear

Sakura Yagi, chief operating officer of TIC Restaurant Group, a collection of nine Japanese restaurants in New York City, is concerned for her father, the owners, their employees, and even themselves amid a growing anti-Asian sentiment.

“I was primarily concerned about people older than me, including my father and nanny,” Yagi told CNBC in an interview, adding that she is encouraging and offering to go home early hailing a taxi instead of taking a subway.

“Especially with the rise in hate crimes against Asians, I will say that getting on the subway these days is more scary than worrying about the coronavirus,” said Yagi, adding that she added her habit of listening to music to hear that I gave up on her way to work to become more aware of her surroundings at night.

Yagi heard of a person throwing fireworks into the dining area of ​​a Japanese restaurant on the same block as one of their own in the East Village.

“It’s really hard to tell if it was racially motivated because it’s not that obvious, but at the same time, I think more and more people think it’s easy to take advantage of Asian companies in general,” Yagi said.

It is also difficult to define the consequences of racism for Asian businesses given the overall impact of the pandemic. TIC had 14 restaurants in town prior to Covid, but has had to close five of them since March.

Close early

Jason Wang, CEO of popular New York chain Xi’an Famous Foods, told CNBC in an interview that he had noticed anti-Asian attacks in the city since last summer.

Wang began closing its New York locations at 8:30 p.m. early to keep its employees commuting to and from work on public transportation.

He told the New York Times in February that two of his employees had been slapped in the face on their way over the past few months.

“Because of them [incidents]We have closed proactively [early] Unfortunately, these crimes take place in broad daylight, so it cannot necessarily be prevented, “Wang said.

Before the pandemic, the New York restaurant chain had 14 locations. Due to the financial burden of Covid-19, it now only has eight.

Hate crimes on the rise

Officials work with the community.

“So many Asian Americans literally live in fear and fear of leaving their homes because they don’t know what will happen to them,” said Grace Meng, Representative for New York City’s 6th Congressional District, at a news conference last month.

The Asian American Federation’s nonprofit and advocacy group, which set up a bias reporting form on its website last year to report hate crimes in the three-state area, has received more than 500 reports to date.

The organization’s executive director, Jo-Ann Yoo, believes the number underestimates the reality and breadth of anti-Asian sentiment.

“We are scared, outraged and devastated by the incidents of hatred against Asian New Yorkers, many of whom were on the front lines in anchoring the city when we were most needed. Yet we continue to be violently treated as outsiders.” the communities we support, “said Yoo.

The group organized a rally against anti-Asian hate crimes last month, which CBS News said was attended by more than 300 participants.

The New York Police Department established the Asian Hate Crimes Task Force last year to tackle the increasing rate of Asian American hate crimes during the New York City pandemic. The task force consists of 25 Asian-American detectives who speak a total of 11 different languages ​​to best serve the various Asian communities in the city.

“We are here to make sure there is an appropriate response to the hatred that affects our city,” said Stewart Loo, assistant inspector for the task force.

Since the pandemic, 28 incidents of hate crimes against Asians related to Covid have been reported, Loo said. Prior to the 2019 pandemic, New York City had three anti-Asian hate crimes.

According to the NYPD, there were 20 arrests for anti-Asian hate crimes in New York City last year, compared to just one arrest in the same category the previous year.

Other officials have expressed their support.

New York City candidate Andrew Yang tweeted after attending the rally in February: “Proud to stand with so many others against anti-Asian violence at the @AAFederation rally organized today. There is no place for hatred in New York . “

“An attack on Asian New Yorkers is an attack on all of us,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during a press conference last month.

Enough is enough

Frustrated by the initial public silence over the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, 28-year-old restaurateur Eric Sze launched the #EnoughIsEnough campaign last month.

The TIC Restaurant Group is one of 22 industrial partners involved in the campaign. She donates meals and money to Heart of Dinner, Send Chinatown Love, and Welcome to Chinatown, among other organizations.

The original goal of the campaign was to raise $ 10,000 for communities in need. In just 12 hours, the fundraising side of the campaign received a total of $ 25,000 and is now over $ 75,000.

“The idea was just to create a voice that would unite some of the people in the restaurant industry and show people that no matter how quiet your voice is, when you are ready to speak and I think we are did that, “Sze told CNBC in an interview. His efforts come after revenue at his Taiwanese restaurant 886 on St. Marks Place in New York fell 75% year over year from 2019 to 2020.