Coronavirus fear affecting Chinese restaurants, employees’ livelihoods

WATCH: Coronavirus fear affecting Chinese restaurants, employees' livelihoods

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The FOX13 investigative team spoke with the owners of several Chinese restaurants who said they’re feeling the effects of the coronavirus stereotypes, and 2020 has been a bad year for business so far. The coronavirus is taking lives across the world – and even though there are no cases here in the mid-south, the panic is now taking peoples’ livelihoods.

Lijie Qiu, a server at Asian Palace, said business has dropped off dramatically in recent weeks.

“I feel sad. Really sad. Even right now the Chinese people are scared to come in the Chinese restaurant, too,” Qiu said.

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Typically, even during the in-between lunch and dinner restaurant rush, Asian Palace is packed. But during our interview with Qiu, only a couple of tables had guests eating.

“For the last couple of years working here, our Chinese New Year is all full. This Chinese New Year, we only had two tables,” Qiu said.

Qiu told FOX13 in the four to five years that she’s been a server at Asian Palace, she’s never seen employees have to cut back their hours. Now, employees are working half-days and even taking extra days off due to a lack of business.

But she said it’s not just the business seeing the effects of fear and stereotypes: she said in the last month, she’s felt racism first-hand.

“Sometimes when we go outside or shop at Kroger, Walmart, people will look at us, like, ‘oooh Chinese people,’ and they will definitely get scared and run away from us. It really hurts us very bad. And that feeling is pretty bad. We didn’t do anything wrong,” Qiu said.

Qiu said her hope for Memphis, and the mid-south, is that people will come back to the restaurant – before it’s too late for the business. She also hopes people will get back to treating others more kindly.

“Just because we look Asian doesn’t mean we have the virus. It’s not just the business hurt. It’s to the person, too,” Qiu said.