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NYC

Feature

April 20, 2021
5 NYC Asian-American Restaurateurs Reflect On The Escalation Of Anti-Asian Hate
With hate crimes on the rise, the Asian restaurant community in New York finds hope in support from locals and each other.
Written by
Michelle Lee

A national surge in anti-Asian hate since March 2020 has left the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community reeling. Stop AAPI Hate reported at least 3,795 anti-AAPI hate crimes since March of 2020 across the United States. New York City saw an 833 percent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes from 2019 to 2020—and the total number of such crimes reported by January through March 2021 had already exceeded the total reported in all of 2020. And this doesn’t even consider the argument that many such crimes are not reported at all.

As AAPI people became scapegoats for the economic fallout of the pandemic, AAPI-owned small businesses, including restaurants, report suffering both from pandemic losses as well as discrimination and prejudice. Andrew Rigie of the New York City Hospitality Alliance said over email, “The Asian restaurant community is part of the fabric of New York City, and the rise in hate crimes and racism against our Asian community is despicable and must be eliminated.”

Asian-Americans in New York’s restaurant world are proactively organizing to combat xenophobia and violence, such as Eric Sze of restaurant 886, who started #EnoughIsEnough to donate meals to community members threatened by food insecurity. Maiko Kyogoku of Bessou is one of the restaurants supporting similar efforts through Heart of Dinner. And others are simply making a point of checking up on each other and loved ones to make sure everyone is safe and sound. The Infatuation spoke with these and other New York restaurateurs about how they’re coping, helping, and coming together.

Eric Sze, Owner of 886

It’s sad these hate crimes are even happening. Our food and our culture is so beloved, and yet our people are not beloved in the same way.

One of our staff members is an East Asian woman and after work she uses Safe Walk or has her boyfriend come to help get her home, neither of which she had to do before. And she’s from New York. It’s unacceptable and sad that it’s gotten to this point. Asian-Americans used to be the Chinese group and Korean group and the Japanese group, and so on with these invisible divides. It’s time we have to break through all of that and reach out to other minorities as well. Unity will always be very important from now on.

After the attack on Uncle Vicha and his death, I started the #EnoughIsEnough initiative to donate free meals to those struggling with food insecurity. I knew people cared deeply, but there wasn’t much group action yet, and I wanted to show others that we should come together. What started out as 10 restaurants eventually grew to include 22 New York City AAPI-owned restaurants. Together, we raised just over $76,000 for donated meals for the New York Asian-American, Latinx, and Black communities. No matter how small we are, we’re always able to make a big difference.

Simon Kim, Owner of Cote

There’s just a complete disconnect. We opened a new restaurant, Cote Miami, and we are fully booked every day. People love our food, our wine, the Korean culture, and celebrate our cuisine. But then you hear about these types of violent attacks on the Asian-American community, and it’s truly disheartening. I think about my staff and my wife and two kids and everyone’s safety.

At the end of the day, we are restaurateurs, and we have to continue bringing people together through our food. The individuals who can’t see through the anti-Asian political rhetoric and are targeting Asian-Americans through violence are not the majority, and we have to remember that. As a community, we need to come together and stay optimistic. We must stay unified to overcome this difficult time.

It’s finally spring after an extremely tough winter. New York City survived a year of COVID. Vaccination roll-out is happening around the city, and indoor dining has been returning. We’ve overcome so much already, and I have hope we’ll keep moving upwards as a community. I’m organizing a fundraiser that is very close to my heart with Apex for Youth, a nonprofit that uplifts underserved Asian and immigrant youth from low-income families. Cote New York City will be hosting a fundraiser and luncheon on April 24, 2021, for Apex’s youth and their families and mentors, sponsoring 100 percent of the lunch. My goal is to raise $25,000. During these dark times, we can show our children that the community is for them, not against them, and help them grow into leaders who will give back to the community.

Eunji Lee, Executive Pastry Chef of Jungsik

We are all very shocked and heartbroken. The hate crimes are very unfortunate and tragic. Our workers are scared, given the violence. We’re worried about taking the train or walking on the street. Now, at the restaurant, we say “Get home safe” as a goodbye.

During the pandemic, Jungsik has worked hard to keep our doors open. As people continue loving us, we’ll keep making our best food and coming together. We have to stand united against racism and hate crimes. We have to be educated about the issues in order to create change.

Hooni Kim, Owner of Hanjan & Danji

When I hear the news about hate crimes, I’m surprised how many emotions I’m experiencing. The first, of course, is fear. My family’s in New York. They like to walk around, so of course I’m worried about them. My wife does not feel safe leaving the apartment after dark. Second is confusion at why individuals frustrated with COVID are taking it out on Asians, and why they would do it with such violence.

Last year, many in the Asian community stood unified with the Black Lives Matter movement. We all know that racism of any kind is wrong. I want people who have suffered violence to know that it’s not just the Asians who are standing up for them. Every single reasonable person out there knows that these crimes are wrong and unfair. Especially when it’s a big guy assaulting a frail or elderly person, or a defenseless woman—it’s the very definition of cowardice and bullying.

As an Asian restaurant, we’re used to greeting our neighbors and guests with open arms, and we want to continue doing that. It’s sad that we have to think twice and worry about safety. We check in with each other and make sure everyone feels safe getting to and from work. Safety is part of running an Asian restaurant now, and that’s sad. It’s yet another reality of COVID that we have to worry and be careful about until things get better.

Maiko Kyogoku, Owner of Bessou

I grew up here in New York. My family’s in New York, and with the rise of violence against Asian-Americans, I’ve been very, very concerned for the safety of my parents, who are elderly. I worry about my dad going out and doing anything outside. I keep an eye out to make sure he’s safe. When I go out, I definitely have this fear in the back of my mind that something could happen to me.

We’re one of the restaurants that supports Heart of Dinner, which delivers meals to Asian elders in the community and the food insecure. We’ve been giving relief meals for this nonprofit throughout COVID for over a year now.

Along with the rise of hate crimes, I see fewer people frequenting Asian restaurants. The restaurants are ravaged by the pandemic, so go support your favorite restaurants!


In addition to supporting your local AAPI-owned restaurants and businesses, see how you can support the AAPI community here. If you are an Asian woman, elderly, or LGBTQ+ concerned about taking the subway, Cafe Maddy Cab is covering Ubers and cabs here and are accepting donations through @cafemaddyCAB on Paypal. New York City Safe Walks will also accompany you on the street.

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