Are Coronavirus Fears Keeping Diners From Chinese Restaurants? The Answer May Be Regional

Bullfrog, cauliflower, celery and potato dry hot pot from Tasty Dining. (Caroline Champlin/LAist)

The outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China has sent concern across the world, with the U.S. government restricting travel from China, and the White House calling the virus a national emergency.

But coronavirus fears are also having effects on a local scale — like at some Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley.

At Mian, a Chinese restaurant in San Gabriel beloved by the late food critic Jonathan Gold, it was business as usual on Friday. People were lining up outside for a taste of numbing, spicy noodles and sweet mung bean soup.

"Everything is just normal in this area," said owner Zhan Feng. If anything, he said, he's just seeing more people come in wearing medical face masks.

He'd heard that another local restaurant, Sichuan Impression, was scanning customer's temperatures, but Feng said that's something he'd never do.

"It's debasing, I think," he said.

Zhan Feng is the owner of Mian, a Sichuan noodle restaurant in San Gabriel. (Caroline Champlin/LAist)

WHY THE REGION MAY MATTER

Geography may be one reason why Mian is busy. Feng serves food from Sichuan province, in eastern China, far from the coronavirus containment zone.

In the same stripmall, however, is another restaurant, Tasty Dining, also acclaimed by Jonathan Gold. It specializes in dry hot pot from Wuhan — the epicenter of the outbreak.

Unlike Mian, that restaurant was half empty.

"Last month, we can do like 70 orders per day, but now just like 40 orders," said Ming Chen, a waiter at Tasty Dining. He said when people are craving dry hot pot, this restaurant is the first place they think of. But now that specialty is making customers wary.

"Because the disease is from Wuhan, everybody sees the Wuhan restaurant and is scared," he said.

THE SIGN IN THE WINDOW

Almost all of the customers they've lost are Chinese, he said, because they recognize the regional food and can read the sign in the window advertising food from Wuhan.

Chen has even fielded phone calls from those would-be customers asking if Tasty Dining is safe to go to. "They told me, do you have some employees who come back from Wuhan?" he said.

Nobody working in Tasty Dining has been to Wuhan recently, according to Chen, but the restaurant's owner is stuck there now (his wife is running the restaurant in the meantime).

Chen understands that people in America talk with people in China, which he said probably puts them on edge. He was unfazed, though, by concerns about the coronavirus — including those expressed by his father, who wants him to stay home. He's more worried about contracting the flu, and even got a flu shot, just in case.

He said he won't turn anybody away from the restaurant if they're from Wuhan. "We are Wuhanese now. We are a family. We need to go together to solve these problems," he said.


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