First Korean restaurant in downtown Richmond closes after 18 years due in part to COVID-fueled racism

yong shin restaurant owner
  • A Korean American restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, has closed after 18 years of business due in part to weekly encounters with racism throughout the pandemic.
  • These racist encounters reportedly became a regular occurence with customers and delivery drivers, happening up to three times a week. They were typically the result of Shin asking visitors to his restaurant to follow its mask policy.
  • In addition to the high volume of racism, owner Shin Yong says the death of two family members and his father’s cancer diagnosis also contributed to his decision to close K-Town Kitchen & Bar’s doors.
  • Shin’s restaurant, originally called “Mama’s Kitchen,” first opened near Virginia Commonwealth University as the first Korean restaurant in downtown Richmond.

Shin Yong, owner of K-Town Kitchen & Bar in Richmond, Virginia, is closing his restaurant after 18 years of business, partly as a result of weekly racist encounters during the pandemic.

After closing his business for several weeks towards the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Shin reopened his business in April 2020 for takeouts and delivery, installing plexiglass and mandating common COVID-19 safety precautions such as mask wearing, reported the Richmond Times Dispatch

The first customer that walked into Shin’s restaurant upon his reopening allegedly refused to wear a mask and yelled at the Korean American business owner, “Go back to your country. Take the disease with you.”

These racist encounters reportedly became a regular occurence with customers and delivery drivers, happening up to three times a week. They were typically the result of Shin asking those who entered his restaurant to follow its mask policy.

“At that point, I became like the Asian punching bag,” Shin told the Times Dispatch.

According to Shin, some of the racist slurs he endured included phrases such as “China man,” “ching chang chong,” “Bruce Lee” and “ch*nk.”

One angry customer even accused Shin and his restaurant employees of not wearing masks themselves and reported them to the Virginia Department of Health in June 2020. That same customer, it was later discovered, had also made a previous accusation that Shin’s restaurant was “serving cats.”

Shin told the Times Dispatch that the anti-Asian sentiment he regularly endured made him “question everything” about himself. “It took a piece of my soul out of me every time,” he said.

In addition to the frequent incidents of racism, Shin has faced two family deaths and his father’s cancer diagnosis, leading him to decide it was time to close down the restaurant after 18 years of business.

Shin first moved to the U.S. from South Korea when he was 4 years old. After attending Virginia Commonwealth University, he opened his restaurant, originally named “Mama’s Kitchen,” in downtown Richmond, where it became the first Korean restaurant in the area. Shin eventually renamed the business K-Town Kitchen & Bar and moved locations to 4th Street in 2016. 

With the closing of his restaurant, Shin is now pursuing a career on YouTube where he plans to share his passion for Korean culture and cooking. Shin currently has over 200 video ideas that he plans on uploading beginning mid-March.

Featured Image via Richmond Times-Dispatch

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