‘A lot of people assume all Asian restaurants are the same:’ Asian-owned businesses closing at higher rates during pandemic

MADISON, Wis.– Asian business owners say it’s like being affected by two viruses: racist attacks and less business as a result of that racism.

From February to December 2020, the number of working Asian business owners fell by 20% as the unemployment rate among Asian-Americans shot up more than 450%, according to a McKinsey & Co. analysis.

That’s more than any other demographic and comes as the number of race-based crimes against Asian Americans has continued to rise since the start of the pandemic.

News 3 Now spoke with Jamie Hoang, owner of Ahan, Patrick Liu, spokesperson for Le C’s Patisserie, and Tory Miller, owner of L’EtoileGrazeEstrellon, and Miller Family Meat & Three about what it’s like being an Asian business owner in Madison.

MORE: ‘When was the last time you were racially attacked?’: Madison’s Asian community responds

Miller said that, in his kitchens, the only thing that matters is being a good cook and a good person.

“I always go to kitchen culture,” he explained. “The kitchen sees nothing. We don’t care if you’re Black, white, woman, Asian, Native American.”

Miller is now a fixture of Madison’s food scene, but it hasn’t always been that way. When he first took over for L’Etoile’s longtime owner in the mid-2000s, he had to earn the respect of a largely white customer base.

“I had to prove to them that I was a good person and could run a business,” he said, adding that, although simple on its premise, it’s a hurdle minority chefs have to clear that many whites do not.

Hoang used to work for Miller. She opened her own Pan-Asian restaurant during the height of the pandemic and faced many of the same stereotypes.

“A lot of people assume all Asian restaurants are the same and they should operate the same,” she said. “People always compare. ‘Why don’t you have pad thai?’ Or, ‘Why is this so much more here?'”

Liu and his wife also opened their business, Le C’s Patisserie, last summer. From the start, they found some customers skeptical.

“Some people  don’t trust Asian food because of the virus,” said Liu. “They call it the ‘Asian virus.'”

But overall, Liu said starting a bakery in Madison specifically was a good decision because customers generally have open minds.

“Try our stuff if you haven’t tried it,” he encouraged. “Try different food.”

All three chefs agree the one thing anyone can do right not to help the Asian community is to support them. Whether that means ordering from them, buying from another Asian-owned restaurant, or simply writing a positive review, they say every little bit helps.