It wasn’t until the first COVID-19 death was announced here in Washington that Lily Wu of Xi’an Noodles began to see how fear could hurt her businesses in Westlake and on the Ave. Since that day, February 29, she says patronage has steadily decreased, now down about a third. Though, from what she has heard in the community of Chinese-owned businesses, that's not too bad. Other owners in the area have told her that their sales have dropped 50–75 percent.
Beyond fear of the virus, Wu cites tech companies allowing their employees to work from home as a major reason her new Westlake location’s business has slowed. (Update: Wu passes along that her Westlake store is now temporarily closed and will reopen around the time the tech companies return to their offices.) That store has been a major headache for her. Since she opened it last September, the business has lost customers due to downtown shootings and now the coronavirus. Though Amazon has since offered assistance to struggling businesses near its offices, Wu hasn’t been contacted.
Her staff at the Westlake location have reported concerns about their own safety. After students in Madison, Wisconsin had slurs directed at them, and physical attacks were reported on New York City subways, Wu's staff, predominantly Chinese, fear leaving the restaurant with masks on.
“We’re all human beings and the virus is our common enemy,” says Wu, “so we should stand together to fight it.” Wu hopes that the community will be reasonable and condemn racism in its response to the virus.
After coming to the U.S. from northern China 13 years ago, Wu has endured numerous ups and downs in America, moving 13 times in her first 11 years. With no family or relatives here, she broke into the city's culinary scene by seizing an opportunity: A space opened up in a Korean market in the U District where she could begin sharing her food. The landlord pulled the lease after only a year, but after another year of searching, she found her spot at Xi'an Noodles' current location on the 5200 block of the Ave. Opening day on May 1, 2016 was a huge hit, the restaurant selling out by 7pm.
“The first day was fully packed with a long waiting line,” says Wu.
She opened a second Westlake location this past September. With her customer base steadily growing every year primarily by word of mouth, Wu believes that once fear of the virus passes, she will be able to build her business back up.
“We will recover little by little,” says Wu.