A New Hope: Prospective buyers look to keep Jing Fong open

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Don Lee refences an article stating Governor Andrew Cuomo spent five million on bike lanes.
Photo by Dean Moses

A group of concerned citizens say they are looking to keep Jing Fong open in the latest Chinatown restaurant drama, albeit under new management.

The loss of Jing Fong restaurant has infuriated Chinatown more than any other brick and mortar causality of the COVID-19 pandemic. With locals likening the 800-seat eatery to the heart of the community many feel that if Jing Fong goes, then Chinatown as they know it will follow. With the owners unable to see a way forward in the current financial climate to make up the amount owed in rent, they forwent the years left on their lease and were forced to close their doors on March 7th.

As of March 14th, the 20 Elizbeth Street location is being gutted and reconstructed now that the property has been returned to the landlord. However, Jing Fong’s staff still continues to work in the kitchen for takeout and outside dining while they attempt to find a new, smaller location from which to reopen.

Jing Fong
Many of the 800 seats Jing Fong once housed are being removed. Photo by Dean Moses

Now, even as furniture is being wheeled out of the iconic doors a new wrinkle in a last-ditch effort to keep the near three-decade old establishment in business is taking shape. On Friday morning Don Lee, a community leader, mobilized outside Jing Fong with restaurant workers and community members. Amidst a cluster of undulating protest signs Lee laid out his plans.

“We want to make sure an institution such as Jing Fong will be available to support the recovery of New York City and Chinatown. We are talking about saving jobs that support 175 families. We are also talking about the economic recovery of New York City,” Lee said.

Lee also described that a team of individuals—David Ng from Chefs Club, David Lee a capitalization and financing specialist, Grace Young author and historian, and others—are eager to engage in a discussion with the landlord in hopes of taking over the existing lease that is already in place. If this is successful, this team states they will rehire every single employee, yet nothing is set in stone. Lee says he is requesting that the city and state also get involved, although even he admits this is not likely.

Don Lee speaks outside Jing Fong flanked by workers holding signs. Photo by Dean Moses

“Government is once again ignoring us, when they say we are invisible—we are invisible to government. The Governor is obviously too busy with his stuff and even the Mayor seems to be missing from time to time, so we are not going to be invisible anymore,” Lee said before continuing, “We have spent time in Korea making success and money for corporate America and we decided it is time to come back to Chinatown and do something for our people.”

Reaching out to the Mayor’s office and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, this team is asking for the elected officials to “fast track” permits and licenses required to get the transfer of power underway as soon as possible. While they are likewise requesting financial support from local government. Citing news articles from amNewYork Metro which state that the Governor invested five million to build two bike lanes, Lee says he believes the Cuomo should do the same for Jing Fong. Lees claims that if the finances do come from government then he will turn the business over to the employees to run. Still, they affirm they will raise the funds necessary to keep the business open if that support does not come.     

Community members see this rally as a new hope in the fight to keep the beloved business open. Photo by Dean Moses

If this process goes according to plan, the location will be under new management as the previous owners have made it known that they will not be involved in this venture in any way. amNewYork Metro reached out to Jing Fong’s current director of marketing for comment.

“We do not have a comment on this plan as we are not involved with it. The dining room space has been returned to the landlord and we are operating from the second-floor kitchen for our patio-dining, take-out, and delivery until the end of May,” the statement read.

Individuals packed the small sidewalk on Elizabeth Street. Photo by Dean Moses