How Asian and Chinese businesses are dealing with COVID-19
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, restaurants in the Portland metro area are adjusting to a new "normal."
Starting Tuesday, March 17, Gov. Kate Brown banned all Oregon restaurants, bars and other food establishments from serving food inside their businesses for the next four weeks. All food served must be limited to takeout or delivery.
The impact has severly hurt the local restaurant industry, but Duncan Hwang, associate director of The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, said especially hit are Asian and other immigrant-owned restaurants, which have been impacted by the virus since January, when American's first started learning about the disease, which originated in Wuhan, China.
"Before the outbreak in Oregon, (Asian-owned restaurants) had reported 30% to 80% of reduced business," Hwang said. "Partially, that was due to kind of fear within Asian American communities of not wanting to congregate and gather because the news from back home was constantly about the virus."
The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon is working to make sure immigrant-owned restaurants can make it through the COVID-19 crisis.
APANO also has a growing list of Asian Pacific American-, black-, indigenous- and immigrant-owned businesses in need of support in Portland, Beaverton and Hillsboro.
On March 17, the city of Portland announced $140,000 in grants for businesses in the Jade District, an east Portland neighborhood with a large congregation of Asian-owned businesses. The grant also included businesses in Old Town/Chinatown, west of the Willamette River.
APANO added $50,000 to the fund for businesses in need. The organization also started taking donations to help workers in those neighborhoods impacted by reduced hours or layoffs.
"Our goal is to help as many of our core businesses make it until other resources become available, like state or federal stimulus," Hwang said. But that help isn't coming for weeks or months, and Hwang said APANO's goals are to help stabilize businesses so they can receive other forms of help.
"Not everyone's going to make it," he said. "But we can do our best."
With Brown's executive order, Hwang said many Asian businesses throughout the region have been slow to transition to takeout or delivery only.
That isn't the case for Justin Liu, who owns Hot Plate Asian Cuisine in Beaverton. Liu said his business has had no problems fulfilling to-go orders. The restaurant had downsized a few years ago as fewer people dined in.
"It's now the bread-and-butter of the business," Liu said. The restaurant has been in the area for the past 16 years.
He added, "We've been established for a long time now, but compared to other Chinese restaurants, their dining in (consists) of about 80% to 90% — takeout is a little bit less."
But the executive order has impacted Liu in a different way.
"My main goal is to support my staff," he said. "I want all of my employees to be employed. I didn't lay anybody off. I just cut hours down, so hopefully everybody has a paycheck to pay rent and support their family."
Hwang said Asian restaurants have been struggling due to fear and xenophobia.
President Trump has referred to the coronavirus as the "Chinese virus," ignoring the World Health Organization's guidelines discouraging the use of geographic locations when naming illnesses because of the negative effects on nations, economies and people.
The first human cases of COVID-19 were identified in Wuhan in December 2019, according to WHO. At this stage, it is not possible to determine precisely how humans in China initially were infected.
As for Liu, he doesn't rule out discrimination as a reason why Asian and Chinese restaurants might be struggling, but he prefers to focus on community efforts to help businesses in need.
"I hope we can still keep this business the way it is," Liu said. "We just have to play it day by day."
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