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The Juxtaposition of Phoenix-Area Asian Markets and Restaurants During COVID

“The sales were through the roof,” says Steven Diep, Mekong Plaza’s property manager.EXPAND
“The sales were through the roof,” says Steven Diep, Mekong Plaza’s property manager.
Tom Carlson

At Mesa’s Mekong Plaza, only seven of the Asian cultural shopping center’s 28 tenants are currently open for business. Several open restaurants are offering takeout but struggling to make ends meet, even after the plaza halved their rent.

But Mekong Market is thriving. In fact, sales jumped by 60 percent at the start of Arizona’s coronavirus-related shutdown.

“The sales were through the roof,” says Steven Diep, Mekong Plaza’s property manager. He oversees operations at the center and also manages its grocery store. “There hasn’t actually been any drop in the supermarket at all.”

Diep says sales have gone back to normal now that many Phoenicians have adjusted to life in quarantine. Still, weekday sales are up 20 percent from before the lockdown. Diep is trying to determine a way to parlay the market’s success into aid for Mekong Plaza’s other tenants. He says he knows the struggle firsthand — he's also co-owner of Happy Bao’s restaurant at Mekong Plaza.

“Small businesses need people’s support,” he says. “They’re just barely holding on right now.”

Like Mekong Market, other specialty stores in the Valley have seen a boost in sales during lockdown.

At House of Rice in Scottsdale, owner Kiyoko Goldhardt says her small store of kitchen supplies and market items has sold over 18,000 pounds of rice in the last month. She attributes that boom to grocery store shortages and people having more time to cook at home or try new things, like making sushi.

“People need us,” says Goldhardt. “We do serve a purpose and I felt it was necessary for me to stay open for my customers, and even people that are just looking for a place that’s open to get supplies.”

House of Rice has even started carrying new items like masks and toilet paper due to high demand.

While the 43-year-old shop has had to postpone its annual anniversary sale due to the pandemic, it has adapted to its new normal. Goldhardt installed a plexiglass shield in front of the register, hand sanitizer can be found throughout the store, and shortened hours have helped reduce stress for the entire staff.

House of Rice is also known to Asian restaurants in the Valley. The restaurant owners or those in charge of purchasing normally frequent the store for specialty items like spices. That small facet of Goldhardt’s business has slowed down a bit, she says.

“They’re doing their best, but they’re struggling just trying to stay open and do whatever they can,” she says of the chefs she usually sees in House of Rice.

Chandler’s Singing Pandas is open, despite the restaurant not seeing a profit.EXPAND
Chandler’s Singing Pandas is open, despite the restaurant not seeing a profit.
Jacon Tyler Dunn

The Valley's Asian restaurants began seeing a decline in sales before the citywide shutdown. Shaanxi Garden in Mesa was forced to temporarily close its doors for nearly three weeks following Arizona’s restaurant closures. The Chinese restaurant lost several employees and owner Noel Cheng says it is losing money every day it remains open.

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“Compared to what we did last year at the same time for Saturday and Sunday, it’s only half of what the business was,” she says.

Likewise, Chandler’s Singing Pandas has kept its doors open out of necessity and is not seeing a profit despite community support.

I told the employees that we will be open so that way we can get through this together,” says owner and manager Sherry Chen. “If we shut down, we close the doors.”

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