Oakland’s Chinatown looks to outdoor dining to lure customers

Like so many neighborhoods, Oakland's Chinatown has been struggling through this pandemic. But now the enclave is hoping to reel in customers by taking it to the streets. 

At Ming's Tasty restaurant the owner says they are hanging on, but it's been a struggle. 

Owner Sunny Huang said some customers come for takeout, but business is down 60% since the pandemic began. 

"They still want to eat here. But right now we can't do that for the customer," she said. 

But Oakland's Chinatown is hoping to lure customers back. Every Friday in August, beginning on the 7th, it is closing off 9th Street between Franklin and Webster streets. Restaurants are setting out socially distanced tables and chairs. 

"A lot of my customers they want to enjoy this. So I think I can get more customers. So this is very helpful to me," said Huang.

Although Oakland's Chinatown is not as large or as famous as its counterpart in San Francisco, it is a big part of Oakland's economic engine. Not to mention all the jobs that once were there. 

"Now more than ever, whenever you place an order, it is a lot more than enjoying a wonderful dish. It is all about small business survival," said Carl Chan, President of the Oakland Chinese Chamber of Commerce

Some businesses have not survived including Buffet Fortuna. Those that are still operating have had to cut back on staff. The Friday street fests are a way to help. 

"The whole purpose is to invite many of the customers that use to come to Chinatown back. And to encourage many small business owners to stay open," said Chan.

And restaurant owners said it's also nice to see customers sitting down to eat again, even if it's outdoors.

"I miss that feeling in my restaurant with customers all here. A lot of customers waiting for tables, I miss that feeling," said Huang.

Oakland Chinatown leaders say of all goes well, perhaps the events can be extended beyond August.