Hundreds of Chinatown protesters make call to save restaurant that’s heart of community

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Hundreds protest the imminent closure of Jing Fong restaurant, one of many to be lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo by Dean Moses

Over one hundred Lower Manhattan residents and members of the 318 Restaurant Workers Union protested on Tuesday morning to keep what they call the “heart of Chinatown” beating.

The community has been one of the hardest-hit communities since the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, but not just due to the virus itself. Many residents and businesses have been on the receiving end of xenophobic attacks. Now the neighborhood is set to face another loss with the popular restaurant Jing Fong scheduled to close its doors for good on March 7.

For many in the area, this is one casualty too many. And they took their case to the bank.

The crowd swarmed the sidewalk of Eastbank, located at 183 Centre St., on March 2 urging the bank’s owner, Alex Chu, to stop the eviction of Jing Fong from the building that he owns.

Displaying a battalion of signs imploring for the security of Chinatown jobs, speakers called for Chu to sit down with the business owners and come to an agreement in order for the restaurant to stay in operation.

Rallygoers also requested that Mayor Bill de Blasio get involved in order to save the beloved restaurant. 

A wall of human bodies surrounded Eastbank. Photo by Dean Moses

“We are here today because we have had enough! We are told by society that it’s inevitable that the restaurants and small businesses will close due to COVID, but is it really inevitable?” said Yolanda Zhang, a speaker from Youth Against Displacement. “Is it really inevitable for small businesses to be displaced by big landlords like Alex Chu in the midst of this pandemic? Is it really inevitable to force workers to lose their jobs? Today we are here with 318 Restaurant Workers Union members, working for Jing Fong restaurant for years. We want full control of our jobs, of our livelihoods—of our community!” 

The street was filled with protesters. Photo by Dean Moses

As a result of the large gathering, Eastbank shutdown operations and NYPD officers arrived to observe the unfolding scene.

More and more individuals appeared to join the sea of signs reading “Don’t destroy Chinatown” and “Save Chinatown jobs” while chants of “Shame on you, Alex Chu” rang out in the frigid morning air. One officer even stationed himself in front of the Bank’s locked doors.

However, this did not deter protesters from attempting to enter the premises in order to deliver a letter addressed to Chu exhibiting their list of demands. With the entrance firmly shut, they simply passed the envelope beneath the doors and into the bank.

The letter addressed to Alex Chu is slipped into the bank. Photo by Dean Moses

Some protesterswondered why they do not have support from elected officials.

“They are trying to destroy the heart of Chinatown and while we are here protesting the closure we are also wondering: Where are all these politicians who claim to be against anti-Asian violence? Where are they? Isn’t this violence?” asked Zishun Ning from the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side.         

Zishun Ning speaks out in support of Jing Fong restaurant. Photo by Dean Moses

Jing Fong, located on 20 Elizabeth St., first began serving patrons in 1993, and has since become a beloved eatery for locals and tourists alike. The immense rally showcases just how much the restaurant and its employees will be missed.

According to a statement from Jonathan Chu of Chu Enterprises, “The owners of Jing Fong decided that this type of extremely large space is no longer sustainable for their restaurant. Nobody has tried harder to keep Jing Fong in this space than we have. Jing Fong’s base rent has remained the same since 1993 – and the restaurant hasn’t paid any rent for the last 12 months. My family has been loyal patrons of Jing Fong for decades, standing shoulder to shoulder with employees on holidays and during important life events. We are saddened by this pandemic and the unemployment that has resulted from inadequate federal, state and local support for workers and small businesses.”

Those at the rally say they refuse to lose another landmark. Photo by Dean Moses