New York restau­rant blames bur­den of city reg­u­la­tions for its clos­ing

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICA -

The fun has stopped at a long­time Chi­nese restau­rant in Man­hat­tan that fed its share of celebri­ties and lo­cals for a quar­ter-cen­tury.

China Fun on Sec­ond Av­enue on New York’s Up­per East Side, once fre­quented by Jerry Se­in­feld, Martin Scors­ese and Rudy Gi­u­liani, among other no­ta­bles, posted a no­tice on its front door blam­ing city and state reg­u­la­tions for its Jan 3 shut­ter­ing.

The all-caps note claimed that “the state and mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments, with their pun­ish­ing rules and reg­u­la­tions, seem to be­lieve that we should be their Wil­liam Hen­nelly cash ma­chine to pay for all that ails us in so­ci­ety, even though we suf­fer just like every­one else from an econ­omy in flux”.

“It has been a great run serv­ing you our de­li­cious soup dumplings, scal­lion pan­cakes and Gen­eral T’sao Chicken, but the cli­mate for small busi­nesses like ours in New York (has) be­come such that it’s dif­fi­cult to jus­tify tak­ing risks and run­ning — nev­er­mind start­ing — a le­git­i­mate ‘mom-and-pop’ busi­ness”.

“While the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the clo­sure of this spe­cific restau­rant are un­clear, the NYC Depart­ment of Small Busi­ness Ser­vices of­fers free, on-site reg­u­la­tory con­sul­ta­tions to help small busi­nesses proac­tively com­ply with ap­pli­ca­ble laws,” depart­ment spokesman Nick Ben­son told dnainfo.com.

On Mon­day, brown pa­per cov­ered the win­dows at the 64th Street restau­rant. About 1 of ev­ery 3 passers-by stopped to read the clos­ing dec­la­ra­tion.

Dorothea Wu, a Shang­hai na­tive, opened China Fun in 1991 with her hus­band Felix.

A re­cent re­view in Time Out New York called the restau­rant “an Up­per East Side in­sti­tu­tion” and “a jack-of-all-trades neigh­bor­hood eatery with an im­pos­si­bly long menu and a dizzy­ing num­ber of op­tions”.

“It’s no sur­prise that its strength is in Can­tonese-style cui­sine given that owner Dorothea Wu — grand­niece of Gen­eral Chi­ang Kai-Shek and a Tai­wanese im­mi­grant her­self — has a per­sonal affin­ity for soup dumplings,” the re­view said.

The own­ers’ son, Al­bert, told the New York Daily News that pa­per­work and reg­u­la­tion had an ac­cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect on the busi­ness.

“When we started out in 1991, the lunch spe­cial was $4 a plate,” he said. “Now it’s $10, $12. The cost of do­ing busi­ness is just too oner­ous. In a one-restau­rant op­er­a­tion like ours, you’re spend­ing more time on pa­per­work than you are try­ing to run your busi­ness.”

Wu also men­tioned in­creases in the city’s min­i­mum wage and in­sur­ance. “And I haven’t even gone into the Health Depart­ment rules and reg­u­la­tions.”

Wu told Patch.com that busi­ness costs “be­came too pro­hib­i­tive” and the min­i­mum wage in­crease was the last nail in the cof­fin”.

“Small busi­nesses are not hedge funds or pri­vate equity firms; the ca­reer politi­cians who make our laws but at the same time have zero busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence have to re­al­ize that restau­rants op­er­ate on ra­zor thin mar­gins and can­not with­stand overnight wage in­creases of 30 per­cent,” he said.

For 2017, the min­i­mum wage for restau­rant work­ers at city es­tab­lish­ments with 11 work­ers or more is $11 an hour. How­ever, em­ploy­ers can re­duce that rate to $9.15 an hour when tips are av­er­aged into pay.

A pe­rus­ing of Yelp! re­views showed a mixed bag: “Over­priced Chi­nese and medi­ocre at best. We or­dered pick up — my boyfriend got sesame chicken $16.99 and I got streamed chicken with broc­coli and wa­ter chest­nuts $19.99. My por­tion was small com­pared to his. Also or­dered hot and sour soup which they call “seafood hot and sour soup” and there was not ONE sin­gle piece of seafood. Gave one star for the quick prepa­ra­tion but feel we can or­der bet­ter-tast­ing Chi­nese food for 25% less.”

“I’m heart­bro­ken to hear they are clos­ing,” wrote one pa­tron. “They’ve al­ways had a good crowd, and it’s been one of my go-to’s for years.”

Con­tact the writer at williamhen­nelly@ chi­nadai­lyusa.com

WIL­LIAM HEN­NELLY / CHINA DAILY

The China Fun restau­rant in Man­hat­tan has closed af­ter 25 years.

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