Earlier this February, Bethesda restaurant Q by Peter Chang was all set up to put on two weeks of elaborate banquet dinners to mark the Lunar New Year, one of the Chinese community’s biggest holidays. There would be family-style tables filled with fried Cornish hens, steamed whole branzino, and Peking duck. The reservation roster was packed. Then, a few days before the start of the New Year, came news of the coronavirus. Ninety percent of the guests canceled their bookings.
Chinese restaurants all over the country—especially in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where there are vibrant Chinatowns and an influx of Chinese tourists—are seeing serious drops in business over fears of the fast-spreading virus. Even the Maryland and Virginia restaurant empire of famed chef Peter Chang and wife Lisa has not been spared.
According to daughter Lydia Chang, who runs the restaurants with her parents, the Fairfax dining room Mama Chang has seen a 20-to-30-percent drop in business. (It landed in the top 15 of our annual ranking of the area’s best restaurants.) Same with the upscale Q by Peter Chang in Bethesda. But none of the family’s places have been hit as hard as the Rockville branch of Peter Chang, which sits amid the area’s most thriving Chinese-dining scene. Business there is down by 50 percent. The family is trying to drum up catering and lunchtime takeout to offset the dip. One plus: The Arlington location hasn’t taken as much of a hit, and its DoorDash orders are up by 20 percent.
Besides cleaning and disinfecting both kitchens and dining rooms, the restaurant group has been providing staff training on the importance of hygiene and has set up hand-sanitizing stations throughout their places. Despite the fears, there are no known cases of coronavirus in the area. As health security expert Amesh Adalja told the Washington Post, there will be risk of contracting the virus “whether you’re at a pizza place or a Chinese restaurant.”
The Chang family’s roots are in Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak. Peter Chang’s mother, Ronger Wang—a.k.a. “Mama Chang” —is currently living about three hours outside Wuhan, the city where the virus originated. She, along with other family members, is still living under quarantine.
“It’s heartaching to see and hear and read about what’s happening in our hometown,” says Lydia. “The impact [it] has on the people is far beyond the numbers of patients we know.”