Editor’s note: A couple of days ago we mentioned a street fair taking place Saturday to drum up business for Chinatown shops and restaurants struggling after Hurricane Sandy. But not everyone thinks the event is the best way to make the neighborhood’s small businesses stronger. Among them: Nom Wah Tea Parlor owner (and TLD contributor) Wilson Tang. Here are his thoughts on the “Chinatown Revival Fair.”
Chinatown holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I grew up, it’s where I work and own a business, and I’m proud to be part of this community. Whether I’m pointing tourists in the right direction, seeing my doctor or dentist in Chinatown, buying produce or “pigging out,” I’m a big advocate for “keeping it local.”
From my vantage point, it’s not hard to see the obstacles Chinatown’s small business owners face, especially restaurant operators. They’re constantly chasing the dream instead of living the dream — with the lowest profit margins imaginable. Think about what it’s like making a living selling $1 dumplings and $3 lunch boxes. I speak from first hand experience. In 2004, I opened a bakery on Allen Street, near Hester, but eventually closed the place because I wasn’t getting the volume to survive on 60 cent coffees and 80 cent pastries. Working 80 plus hours a week wasn’t doing me any good either. As fixed costs increase and rents continue to go up, you don’t have a chance in this neighborhood unless you’re doing huge volume.
Earlier this week, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, along with the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, announced they were holding a street fair this weekend to help local businesses recover from the losses sustained during and after Hurricane Sandy. On face value, I thought it was a good idea to promote small business in my neighborhood during a really tough time. It seemed like a great way to get people down to Chinatown to spend money and to help out the local economy.
There’s always been a close relationship between adjacent neighborhoods Chinatown and Little Italy. One of the most visible demonstrations of these ties occurs during the East Meets West Christmas Parade (Dec. 22 this year), a joint celebration that’s taken place during the past several years. This year, however, groups in the two communities are trying to form even closer bonds — in an effort to save local businesses struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Ralph Tramontana, head of the Little Italy Merchants’ Association, told us this morning he fears up to 30% of the small shops and restaurants in the two neighborhoods could be forced to shutter by early spring. At his own business, Sambuca’s Cafe on Mulberry Street, Tramontana estimated losses from spoiled food could total $20,000. Given the very small profit margins at most Little Italy and Chinatown restaurants, he said, “it’s very tough to pay a month’s worth of bills with a week’s worth of business.”
Editor’s note: Black Friday is, of course, in full swing throughout New York City. Whether you’re braving the crowds today or over the weekend, there’s no better post-Thanksgiving, post-shopping treat than a good meal in Chinatown. And as Wilson Tang, the second generation owner of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor points out, there’s never been a better time to show your support for your favorite neighborhood restaurants.
As a restaurant owner in Chinatown and a lifelong Lower Manhattan resident, I wanted to write a few words to encourage people to dine downtown in the upcoming days and weeks — and especially to come check out Chinatown, a place that’s dear to my heart.
Now more than ever, Chinatown needs customers in its restaurants and shops. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you Hurricane Sandy really did a number on the neighborhood’s commerce. Long after the storm passed, businesses continued to suffer. The losses from spoiled produce and seafood were in the thousands for places like my restaurant, which uses a lot of shrimp. The worst part is that the residual effects are still being felt by most businesses, since rent, utilities and labor costs just keep accumulating. It would not surprise me if some restaurants don’t make it in the upcoming months.
Hellen Choong settled in Chinatown after immigrating to America in 1991. She’s lived in the neighborhood ever since, and will tell you she has no plans to leave. “I love Chinatown, to be honest. It’s so convenient, no?” she asked recently, sitting in her apartment at 11 Allen Street. “Everything is right there. Even when I come home form work, I can still get food. In Queens or Brooklyn, I would have to start running around. No way, I wouldn’t budge from here.”
But if her landlord wins a dispute currently making its way through Housing Court, she may have no choice. In February 2011, real estate investor Fei Wang purchased 11 Allen, an apartment building near the corner of Canal Street. According to residents, some of whom have lived in the building’s small apartments for more than 20 years, he didn’t wait long to demand a change in the way the building had traditionally operated.
We have some new information today about the bizarre and violent incident on Madison Street earlier this month in which a nearly naked man covered in blood jumped out of a second-story apartment window, frightening neighbors and leading police to a three-hour standoff with a suspect.
According to court documents obtained by The Lo-Down, police have charged a 37-year-old man, Ji Jin Pan, with second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Sergeant Adam Holcomb, the officer acquitted yesterday of the most serious charges he faced in connection with the death of Private Danny Chen, received a recommended sentence of 30 days from a military jury this morning for verbally and physically tormenting his subordinate. The jury’s decision also recommended Holcomb be demoted one rank, to specialist, and pay about $1,200 in fines for his conduct.
Holcomb’s precise punishment remains uncertain; the jury’s recommendation is subject to final approval by Lt. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, base commander at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where Holcomb’s trial took place. The base will also host the military trials of seven other officers accused of participating in the racist abuse that prosecutors say drove Chen to kill himself last year while stationed in Afghanistan.
After Holcomb was acquitted yesterday of the heaviest charges he faced in the Chen case (including negligent homicide and reckless endangerment), it seemed inevitable his sentence would disappoint his outspoken critics. Chen’s death bitterly angered Asian-Americans advocates and residents of his native Chinatown community, who say the decision to acquit Holcomb of the negligent homicide charge constitutes a virtual declaration of impunity for officers who partake in racial hazing.
(Today’s column was originally published in September of last year)
Like many New Yorkers, I take pride in having a list of “off the beaten track” food establishments I hit on a regular basis. This is practically a cliché: it seems like every old schooler knows where to find what they consider “the best,” whether it’s pizza, bagels, cannolis, pickles, Italian sausages, burgers or perogies. Younger folks’ lists include items such as tacos, ramen, banh mi and soup dumplings. When pressed, some of us will even admit that we “discovered” many of our favorite places on a friend’s recommendation.
In that spirit I decided to check in with my buddy Peter Ho this week. Peter is an ardent food adventurer; a man after my own heart who has tipped me off to a number of neighborhood places over the years. He’s also a regular at Clandestino (the bar at 35 Canal Street), often bringing samples of his latest discoveries to share with patrons and staff. I figured it would be fun to ambush him there, ply him with a glass of wine and share his latest enthusiasms.
Preparations are nearly finished on Mott Street, as the start of Chinatown’s Lunar New Year Parade approaches! Happy Year of the Dragon.
The Police Blotter in the Post describes the robbery on the J Train of two teens coming home from a Christmas party. It happened Monday around 3 a.m. as the train was approaching the Bowery station. One of the suspects pulled out a knife and demanded money. According to the report, a second suspect then took the knife and held it to the 19-year old victim’s throat. Police say the victim would not hand over the money, so one of the suspects revealed a gun, allegedly threatening, “I’ll shoot you! I’ve been in the system.” The other victim, also 19, gave them a watch and cell phone. The attackers took off when the train reached Canal Street.
Chinese produce vendors dot our neighborhood, in the form of greengrocers, outdoor stands or pushcarts. You can spot those with the most attractive prices by the brisk business they do. Many vegetables that would be difficult to locate in places without a decent Asian population can easily be found here on the LES.
As someone who often cooks Chinese, Japanese and South Asian dishes at home, I find this bounty exciting. Some of us look at these vegetables and wonder, “What do you do with that?” Before you can begin to answer that question you have to know what you’re looking at. This isn’t always easy for non-Chinese speakers, as so much retail vegetable business is conducted in Cantonese, Mandarin or other regional dialects.
But if you know the English name of the vegetable, you’re just a few clicks away from finding out how to turn it into something delicious. The search function in your browser bar is, among other things, an index to a huge cookbook. And cooking is what one does with these vegetables; raw veggies are rarely served in Chinese cooking (though they are carved into elaborate garnishes).
This week I’m going to look at some of the veggies available at a typical Chinese greengrocer, identify them and suggest how to cook them. Most are available year-round, but some are more seasonal, being hard to find (and at a higher price) out of season.
I’ve heard complaints that our neighborhood isn’t so good when it comes to shopping. I may not buy much “stuff,” but I spend a sizable chunk of change on food, wine and other kitchen-related items. I think our neighborhood rules for this kind of shopping — maybe not so much if your ideal is Martha Stewart or the Williams-Sonoma catalog. But those with a more eclectic style can do very well scavenging for bargain cooking utensils, serving vessels and hard to find ingredients. Allow me to share some of my favorite places to shop with you.
A number of my favorite kitchen items come from Chinese restaurant supply stores on Grand Street, Canal Street and the Bowery. Like my go to knife, a Chinese cleaver, available in many of these shops for well under $20. I like the #1 and #4 sizes. They may look scary, but in over two decades, I’ve never hurt myself with one. I have nicked myself with my much more expensive chef’s knife, so it stays in the drawer until I absolutely need it for tricky knife work.
Cloudy today with occasional showers this afternoon and a high of 75. Two big stories we’re following today. First, the City Council is expected to vote on the controversial proposal to create a Chinatown BID. Second, the team behind The Low Line, the proposed park below Delancey Street, present their idea to Community Board 3’s land use committee. We’ll have coverage throughout the day.
Twelve store owners in Chinatown have been arrested for selling a highly concentrated form of rat poison. Yesterday, authorities announced details of a five month investigation into the sale of illegal pesticides. During the undercover operation 6,000 packages of rat and cockroach poison were seized from shops on East Broadway, Mott Street and other locations.
The investigation began last year after a woman bought a small vial in the East Broadway Mall. It came in a yellow and blue box (see above) and the label read, “the cat be unemployed.” According to the New York Times, the woman “mistook the pesticide for medicine, consumed it and became seriously ill, losing two-thirds of her blood volume.”
Authorities said they’re especially concerned about children coming in contact with the illegal pesticides.
Ten of the suspects were charged in state court and face multiple misdemeanor charges. It’s believed the pesticides are smuggled from China, but officials are still trying to track down the exact source of the banned poison.
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