As most (if not all) readers of this blog know, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the foodservice industry especially hard. From stay-at-home orders impacting sales to supply chain difficulties; from pivoting to online ordering to major swings in the labor market—foodservice companies large and small have had to juggle many hardships while still taking care of their workers and delivering high quality products to their customers.
What most readers of this blog also know, however, is that this pandemic has not been the “great equalizer” that some claimed it was at the beginning. It did not affect all foodservice businesses equally. Due to the nature of this virus, its geographic origins, and the political rhetoric around it, Asian American-owned businesses were particularly hard hit.
How COVID-19’s Impacts Hit Especially Hard
In the spring of 2020, many restaurants experienced a decline in demand. People began sheltering in place, social distancing regulations were crafted, and as a result, restaurants served fewer customers. Asian American business and restaurant owners, however, experienced declines in demand beginning in January 2020, well before their non-Asian peers. This was especially true for businesses located in Chinatowns, Koreatowns, and other Asian American neighborhoods. Even in 2021, many Asian American-owned restaurants reported a more than 40% reduction in sales compared to before the pandemic.
In addition to experiencing decreased sales, Asian American people and businesses were targets of violence and vandalism. Many workers of Asian descent experienced physical assaults and verbal harassment; many assailants also broke windows, stole registers, and left menacing messages for Asian-owned businesses. At a time when these foodservice businesses experienced dramatic drops in profits (if they were profitable at all), they experienced increased costs of repairing vandalized property and unnecessary closures caused by these attacks. And that does not even account for the physical and emotional toll of being targeted by anti-Asian racism.
Recovery & How the Larger Foodservice Community Can Respond
While Asian American-owned businesses are experiencing recovery, it has lagged behind the nation as a whole. Part of that may be due to systemic barriers in accessing pandemic-related resources such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). According to the National Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce & Entrepreneurship, “over half of AAPIs surveyed (58%) struggled with navigating the application process and only half (50%) applied for PPP loans. Furthermore, only 23% of AAPIs received the full amount of funding they applied for, compared to 33% of other demographics.” Solidarity with our foodservice colleagues of Asian descent is necessary now and going forward. In my research, I have come across a few resources that can help you get started:
- A McKinsey report entitled “COVID-19 and advancing Asian American recovery” has an excellent analysis of the many considerations businesses should keep in mind and has practical recommendations such as:
- Implementing guidelines and diversity, equity, and inclusion training to make the workplace a safer, healthier place to work.
- Supporting staff both symbolically and concretely, including with culturally-relevant mental health resources.
- Incorporating Asian American-owned businesses into your supply lines and your supplier diversity strategy.
- Many resources suggested donating a portion of your profits to Asian American organizations. Some organizations I found that seemed especially relevant to the foodservice community include:
- Heart of Dinner, which addresses food insecurity and loneliness amongst elderly Asian Americans by delivering meals, fresh produce, and companionship to them.
- Send Chinatown Love, which supports Asian-owned businesses by helping them overcome systemic barriers to securing government grants and other funding, and by purchasing meals from them to donate to people experiencing hunger.
- Welcome to Chinatown, which provides pro bono services to small businesses in New York City’s iconic Chinatown.
The Bottom Line
As a foodservice consulting firm, Foodservice IP is not an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) or in countering anti-Asian sentiment. If your company is seeking deeper advice on this topic, we recommend hiring a DEI expert to guide you through the process. It is imperative, however, that as we recover from the pandemic, we ensure that our friends and colleagues of all backgrounds recover with us.
Tim Powell is a Managing Principal of Foodservice IP. Tim serves as a trusted foodservice adviser to management at several food companies.
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