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In the midst of coronavirus and New York City as the epicenter of the US, its restaurants have had no choice but to close their doors until it’s safe for residents to dine in again. While some hotspots have been able to offer takeout and delivery, other long-time favorites have made the ultimate and heavy-hearted decision to close their doors for good. As it has now become a necessity for the hospitality industry to shift the way they serve New Yorkers, we chatted with Lucas Sin, the chef at junzi kitchen, to learn how he and his team were able to pivot their business during this difficult time.
How junzi Got Its Start
The primary mission of junzi when they first opened, was to show people that Chinese food is more diverse than what they may initially think, hoping to change some of that perception. What may be known as a monolithic concept was being transformed into something that is more colorful and diverse. When their first brick and mortar opened in 2015 in New Haven, Connecticut, their team served food that has challenged locals on the definition of what Chinese food is, and has the potential to become.
Lucas himself opened his first restaurant in Hong Kong when he was 16 years old and had been cooking a while before then. He also spent some time cooking in Seattle, in addition to Japan, most notably at the 3-Michelin-star restaurant Kikunoi Honten located in Kyoto. After graduating from college, he transitioned into the restaurant industry full-time.
Were Does Their Success Come From?
junzi’s customers come from a diverse target market. Some may be Chinese, missing the same hometown flavors they grew up with, and the dishes offer a sense of nostalgia. Before junzi kitchen, there weren’t too many fast-casual restaurants in NYC that served these flavors, so reminiscent of home. On the other hand, there are several customers who have dined in the restaurant, and find the food and its flavors to be novel to their taste buds, simply because it may something they haven’t been able to experience before.
At the end of the day, junzi kitchen aims to become a restaurant chain that will be able to fit in people’s everyday life, such as lunch during their workday, or a meal with family on the weekends. Lucas believes that if someone chooses to have a salad on a Monday, or a burger on a Tuesday, then why not have a hearty plate of Chinese food on a Wednesday or a Thursday? Chinese food has been a part of the US cuisine landscape since its introduction in the late 1880s, and more notably its boom in NYC neighborhoods in the last few decades. junzi’s intention is to keep that trend going in innovative ways.
The COVID-19 Response
It has been difficult for the hospitality industry to respond during this time. As some of their employees had friends and family that still lived in China, junzi had some insight into what might occur in NYC. Taking into account the possibilities of the virus affecting the US in the way that it has, junzi prepared by setting the following three initiatives in place:
Share a Meal– In an effort to feed hospital workers with balanced meals, for $10, customers have the option to donate a meal, which has been able to keep the restaurant’s doors open and employees paid during this time. The choice to donate to hospital workers stemmed from wanting to offer safe delivery options, while also being able to support those working tirelessly to save lives. The restaurant has been able to partner with groups such as Meals 4 Heroes and Frontline Foods New Haven. So far, junzi has donated more than 3,737 meals to over 23 hospitals and organizations!
Share a Meal BTS
Distant Dining– This three-course collaboration meal created every Friday on their Instagram Live, is junzi’s creative effort while putting forth Chinese food. For employees, it has been a great way to educate customers safely at home while still providing great service. What’s been unique about this service, is that the menu changes every week, which has been well received by customers. So much that they have sold out of meals specific to this service, week after week. This week’s series, Distance Dining VOL.8: Vietnamese Chinese with Madame Vo x OMSOM has already sold out in less than days after being announced, join the waitlist ASAP!
Family Meal– This initiative was created so that customers can purchase more than one meal at a time, and feed multiple people at once, so no one goes hungry. Individual ingredients are served in pint and quart containers to easily store and enjoy when the time is right, how many ever times that may be. The Family Meal was inspired by other restaurants in the US and in China, following a similar process.
What Was That About Instagram Live?
In an attempt to showcase their dishes, and connect with their customers on a more personal level, the team at junzi decided to go live on their Instagram in real-time. For the cumulating step of each Distance Dining Volume, tune in every Friday at 7pm for dinner, as Chef Lucas Sin, the collaborating brand for that week, and junzi’s food designer LJ Almendras as they live-stream plating instructions while sharing a cultural introduction of each dish. When restaurants were open to sit down and dine in, Lucas was accustomed to bringing out individual dishes and discussing them with those with junzi kitchen bowls in hand. Instagram has become a tool to help employees propel this service tradition.
When It’s Time to Reopen
Once the virus does start to decline in numbers, Lucas plans on still actively supporting those who have been affected. Their team acknowledges that the virus and its impact won’t disappear overnight, so they will continue to evolve with their ongoing initiatives, and the same desire to give back to the community.
While restaurants still haven’t been given the approval to reopen yet, junzi has ensured that they will strive to make sure their customers and staff are well protected. This could entail fewer people dining in their restaurants at one time, or more time allotted for proper sanitation. This all depends on the new regulations the city will have in place for when that time finally arrives.
So, How Can I Support?
Looking to treat your family, roommates, or yourself to a special dinner? You can always keep a tab on junzi to see what Lucas and his team are currently serving. Full menu orders can be done through their website for contactless delivery. If takeout is your thing at the moment, junzi kitchen’s 3 NYC locations (Bryant Park, Morningside Heights, and Greenwich Village) will be open from noon to 9pm (New Haven, noon to 8pm). Every Saturday and Sunday, for the month of May, their Greenwich Village location will have a NICE WEEKEND pop-up menu, highlighting Chinese- American favorites in celebration of Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Think fried rice, dumplings, ribs, and more! junzi kitchen is also available for delivery on Seamless, Grubhub, Caviar, Uber Eats, and Postmates. For first time orders, you can receive 20% off once you create an online account with junzi. Be sure to tag us if you choose to order in with junzi kitchen, we would love to see what you’re eating!
Keep an eye out, as we will continue to feature innovative businesses, as a source of motivation for other businesses, and highlighting ways you can support, where and when you’re able to.
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