Peking duck is masterfully carved and served with buns, slivered scallions,...

Peking duck is masterfully carved and served with buns, slivered scallions, cucumber and house-made plum sauce at Long Island Pekin in Babylon.  Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

During those first days of March, scores of Chinese eateries across Nassau and Suffolk closed their doors and diners found themselves facing a global pandemic without the comfort of an egg roll. But as April rolled into May, the woks started firing up again, and many Chinese restaurants are reopening their doors.

The coronavirus was a one-two-three punch, said Tenny Lo, owner of F.A.N. Authentic Chinese Cuisine in Deer Park, which reopened on May 3. “One, there was the lack of customers,” he said. “Two, a lot of our employees didn’t want to work and, three, there were problems with supplies.”

Calvin Hu, whose Hunan Taste closed on March 27 and is slated to reopen on Friday, said that he saw a slowdown beginning in February when, he said, "my customers were worried. Some of them thought that the food we served came from China."  He noted that virtually all of the food in a typical Chinese kitchen is American in origin.

Both restaurateurs observed a certain inconsistency in their customers’ culinary geopolitics. “When the coronavirus hit Italy,” Lo said, “it didn’t stop people from eating pizza.”

But he also noted that none of his customers were as skittish as those with roots in China. “It wasn’t that they weren’t coming to my restaurant, he said. “They stopped going out to eat period. The Chinese people knew how bad it was.”

And that was the root of Chinese restaurants’ staffing problems. “My customers were still coming,” said Hu, “but my kitchen guys did not want to come to work. They had been watching what was going on in China on Chinese social media since December — the progression from the outbreak in Wuhan to total lockdown. They said ‘This is no joke, people are going to die,’ and some of these guys live with their parents and didn't want to put them in danger.”

Jason Lee, co-owner of New York Pekin in Babylon, said that his business was booming when he closed down on March 29 but that, as with Hunan Taste, his kitchen staff was fearful about coming to work.

Not only was Lee short of cooks, he was short on the restaurant’s signature item: duck. “For our Peking duck, we rely on a farm in Pennsylvania that guarantees us at least 200 ducks a week,” he said. “We just couldn’t get them.”

Lo said that starting in March and into April, F.A.N. couldn’t get any fresh-killed chickens, tiger prawns, flounder or soft-shell crabs. “Some of them were available frozen,” he said, “but not fresh.”

But in May, supply disruptions started easing up. When Lee found he could get ducks again, he started canvassing his employees about returning to work. “They saw that the numbers are coming down, they saw that the supermarkets in Queens that had been shut down were reopening.” Long Island Pekin’s kitchen is particularly spacious and, Lee said, “we can all be 10 feet apart and still do our work.” He reopened on May 3.

Lo is also taking special precautions at F.A.N. — including giving out masks to any customer waiting outside without one. At the urging of his staff, he rented a house near the restaurant so that his employees would not have to shuttle between Long Island and Queens, where most of them live.

Customer response, he said, has been overwhelming. “They are so happy to see us.” Lee reported that his customers started putting in preorders for Mother’s Day a week early. “Even customers who aren’t ordering,” he said, “are calling every day just to make sure we still have food.”

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Albert’s Mandarin Gourmet: 269 New York Ave., Huntington; 631-673-8188, mandaringourmetli.com

Beijing House: 170 Jericho Tpke., Syosset, 516-864-0702, beijinghouseus.com

Cheng Du: 947 Hempstead Tpk., Franklin Square, 516-358-1603, chengduny.com

F.A.N. Authentic Chinese Cuisine: 534 Commack Rd., Deer Park, 631-586-6888, fanchinesefood.com

New York Pekin: 96 E. Main St., Babylon, 631-587-9889, longislandpekin.com

Orient Odyssey: 511 N. Broadway, Jericho, 516-719-0021, orientodysseyjericho.com

Wong’s Noodle Town: 1123 Old Country Rd., Plainview, 516-822-0888, wongsnoodletown.com

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