HomeAsian AmericansSF New Deal extends lifeline to struggling restaurants and vulnerable residents

SF New Deal extends lifeline to struggling restaurants and vulnerable residents

By Serena Chow, AsAmNews Intern

Weeks before shelter-in-place orders took hold in San Francisco, Alfred Lee, owner of K-Elements BBQ in the Richmond District, saw his restaurant revenue plummet by nearly 90 percent after shutting down all in-house dining due to the pandemic. 

Lee is certainly not alone in shouldering the devastating impacts of the coronavirus outbreak on small businesses. 

Across the country, the restaurant industry is collapsing amid mass layoffs and lost revenue. According to research from the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, an estimated 5.5 million of pandemic-related layoffs occurred in the food and drink industries, and recent estimates show that potentially 50% of restaurants in San Francisco may not reopen, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association reports. 

Following widespread closures of in-house dining, Lee, along with other restaurant owners, have turned to take-out food orders to salvage business and stave off unemployment. However, Lee says these measures have not been enough to circumvent slim profit margins, describing the transition to take-out orders as “a complete shock” to his all-you-can-eat restaurant business model.  

K-Elements BBQ struggles to make up for a 90 percent decline in revenue due to the pandemic. Photo via Facebook.

For struggling restaurants like K-Elements BBQ, a new nonprofit based in San Francisco is extending a lifeline to local restaurants by paying them to prepare food for the city’s most vulnerable communities. 

Partnering directly with restaurants and community organizations, SF New Deal’s meal delivery initiative is both combating pervasive food insecurity among historically underserved communities and providing necessary income for restaurants to keep workers on payroll. On average, restaurants partnering with SF New Deal receive about $30,000 over a four week period with each meal costing $10 to prepare.

SF New Deal currently has 68 partner restaurants and 12 nonprofits collaborating with the program. 

“These are payments for services they are providing, not loans that will have to be repaid back,” said Lenore Estrada, founder and executive director of SF New Deal.. “These are immediate lifelines allowing small businesses to support existing commitments to their staff and to extend employment to former staff that may have been previously laid off.”

Meals delivered by SF New Deal come at no cost to the programs’ participants. The nonprofit raises money from private donors including a $1 million investment from Twitch CEO Emmett Shear in early April.

“SF New Deal has been tremendous in terms of helping out two groups in need,” Telmo Faria, an executive chef at Uma Casa which is receiving funds from New Deal, said to AsAmNews. He mentioned not only the restaurants, but also their employees and the struggling residents the program feeds.

Faria also spoke to the heavy economic toll the pandemic has taken on his restaurant.  

“The biggest way our business was affected, even before shelter in place, was there was an immediate drop in revenue,” Faria said. “In the weeks leading up, we had already dropped revenue by 50% and even with these different organizations, that’s still where we are at. All things considered, that’s actually really good under the circumstances. But in the long run, it’s not viable for business.” 

Discussing the process of meal preparation and delivery, Faria explained that a key consideration is ensuring that the meals are not only nutritious but culturally appropriate for different communities and enjoyable for the residents.

“First and foremost we want to deliver meals that are fresh, prepared well and nutritious, but SF New Deal does try to encourage us to provide culturally appropriate foods….restaurants can also be paired with certain delivery sites,” Faria noted. “ I think that’s important because you also want to make sure that you are not just providing nutrition for people but still providing meals that they will enjoy and flavors that people are familiar with. So there are different chefs preparing for different sites. What a chef might prepare for a predominantly Asian American site might differ from what that might look like for an African American church for example.”

According to Lee, K-Elements BBQ began partnering with SF New Deal after senior residents at the Korean Center, one of SF New Deal’s delivery sites, requested Korean food.  

“The Korean Center actually requested authentic Korean food, so we deliver food two days a week with them and Namu Stone Pot, another local Korean restaurant, is actually doing the other three days a week with them,” Lee said to AsAmNews. “That’s a big reason why we got involved in the partnership because of the need from these Korean communities.”

Commenting on his restaurant’s current financial situation, Lee observed that profit margins are 10 to 15 percent of what the restaurant normally reaches. Without the SF New Deal, Lee says the restaurant is “definitely only doing about 5 to 6 percent.” 

K-Elements BBQ in San Francisco prepares delivery of meals to non-profits who receive them at no cost to them under the SF New Deal Program

Lee also noted that Asian restaurants have suffered particularly hard losses during this period, expressing additional concern over how these small businesses will be able to adapt to social distancing measures given specific restaurant layouts.

“Even if we are able to open, having to have tables that are at least six feet apart will be difficult for a lot of restaurants in the Asian American communities, because a lot of dining areas are more cramped,” Lee said. “So having to be six feet apart will kill the business model. Fine dining probably won’t have that big of an impact because tables are already pretty spread out, but our tables are set in place because they are cooking tables, so it will definitely impact us a lot.” 

Emerald Yeh, founding board member of the Asian Pacific Fund nonprofit partnering with SF New Deal, has also observed the disproportionate impact on the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. 

“When I read the article about SF New Deal in our local paper, I saw this as a great opportunity to get Asian restaurants, who have been suffering deeper economic pain, included in this exciting new program,” Yeh told AsAmNews. “SF New Deal immediately understood the importance of this inclusion and quickly onboarded several restaurants, including some in Chinatown, and started meal deliveries to the vulnerable seniors and families in our Asian Pacific Islander community. It was not just a win-win but a win-win-win because our non-profit clients are also receiving prepared foods that are familiar and comforting to their cultures.”

SF New Deal’s meal delivery program has been critical to supporting Asian American communities facing a surge in anti-Asian hostilities. After experiencing racist incidents, some have expressed fears about leaving their homes and running essential errands. 

Since launching on March 19, the STOP AAPI HATE reporting center has received over 1,700 reports of coronavirus-related discrimination against Asian Americans across the country. 

The reporting center was founded by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON), Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) and San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies Department. 

Malcom Yeung, executive director of San Francisco’s Chinatown Community Development Center, echoed similar sentiments about the hard losses of the Asian community in an interview with CNN, saying that San Francisco’s Chinatown usually has about 150 Chinese restaurants in business, but now only 40 remain in operation. 

Speaking to the rise in anti-Asian hostilities, Yeh explained that watching these incidents unfold is like “a nightmare reawakened.”

“A lot of us lived it or grew up knowing about past anti-Asian hostilities, whether it be through the Japanese internment camps, the murder of Vincent Chin, or the Chinese Exclusion Act,” Yeh noted. “It’s a painful part of our history, and so this has ignited some fears…It’s been a challenging time and it’s really shocking to be living in the Bay Area and to be reading about incidents in our communities where people shout hateful things, spit, and it’s been documented.” 

Emerald Yeh is a founding board member of the Asian Pacific Fund and a former news anchor in San Francisco

Yeh further explained that COVID 19 has “posed a triple threat to the Asian American community.” According to Yeh, one challenge is the anti-Asian scapegoating, the second is the economic pain, and the third is in the nonprofit world, where the resources of community organizations are straining to meet the surging needs of vulnerable members in their communities during this unprecedented crisis. 

Gum Moon Women’s Residence in San Francisco’s Chinatown is an affiliate nonprofit with Asian Pacific Fund and another meal delivery site of the SF New Deal. The community organization received their first meal delivery on Easter Sunday from Capital Restaurant, a Cantonese Restaurant in Chinatown. 

Established in 1868, Gum Moon Women’s Residence offers support services to approximately 3,500 clients through the Bay Area, including immigrant families with young children as well as survivors of domestic violence and trafficking.   

Gloria Tan, the Executive Director of Gum Moon Women’s Residence, assists with the meal deliveries to her organization’s members.

“It was a pleasant surprise for the residents and a reminder that our community cares and we can jointly overcome this pandemic,” Tan said. “Hot meals are definitely a big help for the vulnerable population that are unable to go out as much to purchase groceries and cook. We have shared kitchen facilities and social distancing is challenging during meal time.”

Faria further noted that having contact with site delivery coordinators has been an integral part of ensuring restaurants receive feedback from residents on what they enjoyed and how restaurants can better serve community needs.

“I delivered the meals myself and I am able to have direct contact with the delivery site coordinators who are able to share feedback about what meals work best and what to avoid,” Faria said. “They know their recipients better than we do, so they are able to communicate directly with us to ensure that the food we are serving is always appropriate but also that people are happy and enjoying it.” 

Yeh added that the community work SF New Deal is pioneering serves as an important model for the post-pandemic world. 

“The pandemic has stripped away and really exposed how vulnerable restaurants are in general and we are seeing very clearly what the food insecurity is in our communities and across the country,” Yeh said. “Currently the way things are, it’s not working. Restaurants can’t go on with razor thin margins, because if another crisis hits, more will go under. People are going hungry, more than people realize. So, I think SF New Deal provides a really promising exciting model for how to strengthen our restaurant industry, which is so vital to our community as well as getting the vulnerable the food that they need.”

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our  Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story. 

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