Written by CAPA JRC Reporter Evelyn Shue
Firewok is a recently opened Chinese restaurant in Potomac, Maryland. With a front counter modeled after ancient Chinese medicine stores, a no-ceiling design, and traditional Chinese umbrellas and lanterns adorning the walls, its interior design boasts an air of antiquity.
Firewok serves Cantonese cuisine that is catered towards Americans, but incorporates its own elements into the food. Furthermore, many of the dishes are specialties unique to the restaurant, such as its roast duck, fried quail and lamb chops. To ensure freshness, supplies are renewed each day. The small restaurant was always busy, until COVID-19 struck.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the restaurant industry has undoubtedly taken a hit. Like the rest of the restaurant industry, Firewok, too, has been hit hard by COVID-19.
In fact, the owners Mr. Chen and Mr. Tan say that their restaurant began to feel the effects of the pandemic even before it spread to the United States. For them, it was not just the quarantine that resulted in decreased revenue. Rather, it was a fear that Asians carried the virus. In February, patrons began to call and ask if there were people who had just come or returned from China, and paranoia caused business to dwindle.
But after stay-at-home orders were issued in March, business plummeted further.
“March was the worst,” Mr. Chen said. “We haven’t made any profit since quarantine began.” Earning only several hundred dollars a day, Firewok has been unable to pay for utilities, rent and salaries and was forced to lay off employees.
“We began to lay people off and cut hours. We first laid off two waitresses, a person who answers the phone, a delivery person, two chefs, two food preparers,” Mr. Chen said. “All of the work has been done by the owners. We haven’t stopped working since quarantine began.” Despite having applied for SBA and Paycheck Protection Program loans, they aren’t even enough to cover the salary of one chef.
Thankfully, Firewok has patrons who order once a week in an effort to support them.
“We are so grateful for those who help us through the difficult times,” Mr. Chen said. “We hope this pandemic will end quickly so that we can return to normal.”
This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club
(CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video
recorded. CAPA JRC has 19 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have
created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.