Restaurant Owner Deuki Hong Reveals How Small Businesses Struggle During COVID-19 Outbreak

Restaurant Owner Deuki Hong Reveals How Small Businesses Struggle During COVID-19 Outbreak
Maina Chen
March 30, 2020
Executive chef and owner of Sunday Bird, Sunday at the Museum, and Sunday Gather, Deuki Hong, shuttered all three of his restaurants amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
Chef Hong made the difficult decision to close all his establishments by March 21 after San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed announced a stay-at-home order.
The decision itself came in stages, as he covered in a podcast interview with Watcher‘s Steven Lim, who created the Hidden Narratives of the Coronavirus series to speak to Asian American leaders across industries and document how COVID-19 has impacted the community.
Two weeks ago, Hong laid off all 27 of his staff, lasting until the final night of service before shutting down indefinitely. Sunday at the Museum was the first to go and as the location with 14 team members and the highest revenue, Sunday Family (the nickname for the individuals supporting the business), took a large financial hit.
As he explained in the podcast, there is a hustle culture to being a New Yorker, a “Two hour detriment — hustle no matter what, push through, [a] pride in the grit.”
He tried to remedy the situation on Monday, March 16, where the hours were extended for the bakery, Sunday Gather. The plan was supposed to transition to exclusively deliveries for the time being.
However, as Boba Guys announced their layoffs, the chef was stunned.
Hong revealed to NextShark, “Andrew and Bin are my business partners and when they shared the news that they will be closing, I was shocked. They are THE Boba Guys and if they close…what shot do we have?” he said. “Our business is very intertwined (Sunday Bird inside Boba Guys Fillmore location and Sunday Gather runs the pastry program for all SF Boba Guys location) which is great when a global pandemic isn’t happening but when their business is interrupted we are greatly impacted.”
Coupled with a potential COVID-19 positive scare on Tuesday, March 17 (it was a false alarm), by the next day, Wednesday, March 18, he made the executive decision to shut it down.
“Why shut down all the way?” Lim posed.
The chef mentioned that it wasn’t a lack of business, granted they were “getting crushed economically.” He explained that it was because it’s a pandemic, well-being related, and that being outside is a risk.
“All 27 people want to work right now. They would rather be doing anything for pay, instead of being told to stay home.”
However, he explained if he stayed open, “I don’t think I can cope with the fact that I got somebody sick, because they came to work, or they took public transportation, or they had contact with a customer at a delivery.”
Chef Hong cares deeply about his team, saying that certain Sunday Family members needed the hours because they provide for their parents and children. He wanted to make sure they would be fed and be able to afford rent. It’s specifically the reason why he put together a GoFundMe in the meantime because, while there are government aid programs out there, they are too slow.
The decision to make the page was hard, as he explained for Asian men, “asking for help isn’t something that’s encoded in us naturally.”The chef described the disparity with one thumb motion: “I pass by friends doing pushups and dance covers while right underneath a friend pleading for help because they just lost their jobs or company/team.”
Adding to some restaurants being the alleged targets of COVID-19 racism and xenophobic attacks, he expressed it as heartbreaking and how there is a need to be unified.
“I’m hopeful that the sunday family will continue to serve people for years to come,” he said. “I ask that if you are privileged to have a job that you can WFH or are still getting a paycheck, please consider helping in ANY way. Yes monetary support would be great, but even sharing meaningful content/campaigns (like [the writers do] at Nextshark) so others may support is huge. At the bare minimum, reaching out and encouraging a friend who you know is deeply affected. Just no matter what, don’t NOT do anything.”
You can donate to support the Sunday Family on their GoFundMe page.
Feature Image (left) via @deukihong (@bobcutmag), (right) @deukihong
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