Chinese cafes in Sydney struggling to survive amid pandemic

CANBERRA: It was lunchtime when He Wei closed and locked the doors of his restaurant at the center of Australian capital Canberra.
“The restaurant has been open for seven years, and never have I thought before that one day I would have to shut it down without knowing when to reopen,” he said.
He, 36, is owner of Mr. Wei’s, one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in Canberra with its signature Beijing Roast Duck.
Adjacent to the shopping mall Canberra Center and performing arts venue Canberra Theater Center, Mr. Wei’s was always bustling with customers, most of whom local Australians.
Things began to change after the outbreak of COVID-19.
“The epidemic first hit China, and I was concerned about my parents, brothers and sisters,” He recalled, adding that he followed news reports every day.
“We are a Chinese restaurant and our staff are Chinese. So we wanted to do something for our mother country,” said He. They decided to donate some masks.
“We could only buy several or a dozen each time in a pharmacy,” he said. But they managed to have them sent back to China.
When the situation in China improved, He had no time to rejoice, because he saw Chinese restaurants in Australia affected greatly by the epidemic.
“There were irresponsible local media reports labeling COVID-19 as a ‘Chinese virus’ and ensuing stigma against Chinese people,” he said. “Some locals stopped going to Chinese restaurants.”
At the same time, as Australia closed the border to Chinese nationals, many people, especially students, were unable to come back after the Spring Festival. That means Mr. Wei’s also lost its Chinese customers.
The last blow came on March 23, when the federal government of Australia announced that restaurants and cafes were restricted to takeaway and delivery only.
“We chose to close,” He said. “It is not profitable for restaurants like us to do takeaway.”
Looking into the future, the man was unsure. “I may have to close for a quarter, or even two. I am afraid we will have to lose up to half of the revenue this year.”
Unlike him, Julie Wang is still working in her restaurant Xi’an Famous Food.
Graduated from a university in Melbourne, Wang partnered with some friends to open the restaurant about four months ago.
She told media that income nowadays was less than one third of that in the past.
Wang recently put up an advertisement on a local Chinese-language magazine, saying that the restaurant would offer a 15 percent discount. – Agencies