Chinatown banquet halls finally reopen after being closed for more than a year

The swearing-in ceremony of a new Chinese Chamber of Commerce marks the reopening of an important Chinatown staple, the banquet halls. 

The Far East Cafe in San Francisco is one of Chinatown's oldest and most respected banquet halls. Closed for more than a year for large gatherings by the pandemic, the ceremony is the hall's first major event since COVID-19.

The Far East Cafe is now one of the two remaining banquet halls in Chinatown, where more than half a dozen of them used to operate. 

Bill Lee, the owner of the Far East Cafe, said after a challenging year where the Far East Cafe was in danger of closing down for good, the banquets, an important part of the Chinese American culture, were returning.

"Every year we have a Spring banquet, and we need to, you know, all the relatives and family get together and see each other. Maybe once or twice a year," said Lee. "That's a really important part for the community in Chinatown."

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While the banquet halls play an important role socially, they also play a very important role in Chinatown's economy and San Francisco's economy.

"The banquet hall is such an important part of the Chinese culture because this is where a lot of the family association a lot of the organizations hold their meetings," said Harlan Wong from the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. "Their gatherings, That's where everybody gets together, socializing and network."

Members of the Chinatown community said the banquet halls are where friends and family meet and often where deals are struck.

San Francisco's mayor, on hand for the swearing-in, said the return of the banquets to Chinatown is a hopeful sign for a critical piece of the city's economic puzzle. 

"It plays an important role because of all these shops and all these restaurants and beautiful buildings and it holds an important place in San Francisco we hope people will continue to come back to," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

Chinatown businesses, residents, and visitors said they hope that this first banquet back is a sign of more to come.