HOUSTON - As Texas inches closer to Phase 2 of reopening its economy, restaurants allowed to increase dine-in capacity to 50% are preparing for the changes.
However, some restaurants in Chinatown whose businesses have been suffering even before the stay-home orders aren’t sure how much it’ll help.
For many Chinatown restaurants, like Mala Sichuan Bistro, business has plummeted since the end of January thanks to nasty rumors and irrational fears over the Coronavirus.
"After Chinese New Year, our business dropped by roughly 65%, and then it stayed like that until the order to close dining-in was issued. That was the worst time in our history," said Cori Xiong, owner of Mala Sichuan Bistro.
Cori said the typically packed restaurant has been making only about 20-40% of their sales over the last couple of months and she doesn’t see that changing with the governor’s reduced restrictions.
"I think most of the restaurants will not be able to open to 50% and at the same time maintain the 6-feet social distancing because most of the restaurants still do not have that space. Even if we’re able to open 50%, I don’t think we’re going to gain back the 50% of the original customers as before," said Cori.
Since March, Cori said she’s had to furlough about half of her staff to help the family-owned business break even. Complying with limited capacity rules means having only having six tables available at a time. Not to mention, opening for dine-in at all, means putting herself and her employees at risk of contracting the virus, as well as face the potential backlash associated with it from the Internet.
"They’ll say that you’re dangerous and attack you. They'll say you’re not being responsible, you’re infecting other people. Why are you still out working? You should be staying home," Cori said.
"I've been working with this new Chinatown since the 80s, but I have never seen such a bad situation," said Kenneth Li, Chairman of the Southwest Management District that oversees the area.
Li also serves on the board for the Asian Chamber of Commerce and estimates that businesses across Chinatown have steadily lost up to 75% of their sales. He said some of the smaller businesses have been bought over by new owners entirely.
"Because this to go business, even though it's good, it's still limited. And most of them, they don't do delivery because that's expensive -- like UberEats, they charge 30% of their sales. And some of them just cannot afford to do that," Li said.
Li said the Asian Chamber of Commerce and the Southwest Management District will be launching a campaign to help boost business in Houston's Chinatown.
The organizations will be working with several local restaurants to donate up to 10,000 meals to COVID-19 frontline workers including nurses, firefighters, and police officers.