9 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help Save Your Local Chinatown

Chinese American cookbook author Grace Young shares her doable (and tasty) tips for helping your favorite businesses—just in case you need an excuse to stock your freezer with dumplings and get more takeout.

The cookbook author Grace Young with a bag of takeout from the New York Restaurant Hop Kee
The author pictured picking up takeout from New York's Hop Kee, which she notes was one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite Chinatown restaurants. . Photo: Michael Wiertz

As a Chinese American cookbook author and culinary historian, it's been heartbreaking for me to witness COVID's economic impact on Asian businesses across the country. I grew up in San Francisco's Chinatown and for the past 40 years have been part of Manhattan's Chinatown community. Since February, I have been closely monitoring the situation there as mom and pop businesses struggle to survive.

While it's no secret that restaurants high and low are closing at an alarming rate all over the country, those in Chinatowns are particularly hard hit. In March I started a video series, Coronavirus: Chinatown Stories, in collaboration with videographer Dan Ahn and Poster House museum. The series documents how the pandemic has threatened the possible forever closing of favorite AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) restaurants, markets and shops across the country. Mandatory indoor-dining shutdowns in mid-March of 2020 caused many restaurants to close permanently, but others are struggling to survive on takeout and, more recently, outdoor dining. It feels like every day there are more and more closings but I strongly believe there are a few simple things we can all do to help mom and pop businesses get through this challenging time and recover! What's needed most of all at this crucial moment is a lot more foot traffic to Chinatowns, bringing hope and dollars to these important ethnic communities nationwide.

A poster that says Chinatown Needs Your Help
A poster designed to support Chinatown. Sue Israel

Doable Ways to Help Save Chinatowns Nationwide

Here are nine ways to support your local Chinatown by making it a frequent destination for not just delicious food, but also low-cost merchandise and services.

1. Fried-Rice Fridays

Start a tradition of fried-rice Fridays or set aside any day for a favorite Chinese takeout meal. Getting takeout on Friday is a national trend, says the Washington Post,—and it's a trend that's keeping eateries, and eaters, alive. If restaurants offer frozen dumplings—ask them to if they don't—buy them for always-on-hand snacks or meals.

2. Pick Up Your Own Takeout

Instead of ordering for delivery through an app (most of which charge large markups to restaurateurs), get some exercise and do your own pickup. While you're at it, pick up for friends who can't go out or for needy friends who can't afford the cost of a hot meal. If you're unable to pick up, tip delivery people as generously as possible.

3. Pay with Cash

Using cash for everything, from food to souvenirs, saves businesses paying fees charged by credit card companies. And, as noted above, don't forget to tip generously for food and services.

4. Shop for Groceries and More

Do shopping in Chinatown, where just about everything is available at great prices: groceries and fresh produce for home cooking, bubble tea and dessert items, gifts and souvenirs, housewares and so much more.

5. Explore!

Tour Chinatown on foot with friends who may not as yet have experienced, and appreciated, the unique ambiance of this historic immigrant community. Discover more than just restaurants, including businesses like hair salons, bakeries, eye glass stores and many more.

6. Donate Money

Search out organizations in your local area that fund Chinatown businesses and food pantry programs, such as New York's Send Chinatown Love, Heart of Dinner and Welcome to Chinatown, San Francisco's Chinatown Community Development Center and Oakland, California's Wa Sung Community Service Club.

7. Purchase Gift Cards

Restaurants are happy to sell gift cards. Buy them as gifts for friends and relatives who you know love Chinese food. If an establishment also sells fun items like mugs and T-shirts, add that on too—it's another way to support the eatery.

8. Write Reviews

Now's the time to Yelp and Google out your support for your local Chinatown restaurants with online reviews that mention special dishes or the experience you've enjoyed there. Every voice counts as we pull together for the survival of Chinatown. You can also post to social media and tag your favorite restaurants—use the hashtag #savechineserestaurants when you do.

9. Spread the Word

Be sure to pass these tips along to family and friends. With everyone helping, Chinatowns all across the country can recover!

This article was originally published January 2021 and was updated by Grace Young to include the broadened scope of her campaign to support all Asian American Pacific Islander communities across the country.

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