Uneven Ground: Is there a CB3 Double Standard Regarding Chinatown Restaurants? [OP-ED]

Posted on: August 17th, 2017 at 8:29 am by

The following opinion piece was written by Chinatown activist, and Community Board 3 member Karlin Chan.

As a member of Community Board 3, but primarily as a Chinatown resident, activist, and advocate, I cannot keep silent any further.

It is disturbing to see CB3 apply different sets of rules when it comes to the SLA subcommittee’s handling of new applications. During last month’s meeting, I was in attendance to oppose the application of MJK Foods (License #1301890), and had argued that it would be irresponsible and reckless to approve a full liquor license (aka “OP”) to operators without experience in the nightlife business. But my argument fell on deaf ears (intentional?) and the application was approved.

I was merely using an argument the committee itself had previously used to deny an application.

During the Sept 2015 SLA committee meeting a full service Chinese restaurant Hwa Yuan 42-44 East Broadway applied for an OP license but was rebuffed by committee members because the owner had lacked “experience.” The committee instead “floated” a wine-beer arrangement which the applicant had no choice but to accept. So, why was the Hwa Yuan restaurant subjected to a different set of rules? Why was CB3’s SLA committee even considering criteria that the State Liquor Authority doesn’t?

Residents opposing MJK Foods on Mulberry St.

Yet, MJK was approved. None of their principals have experience, either. Max Levai from Happy Ending wasn’t on those liquor licenses. Is there a double standard when it comes to Chinese applicants? Are they subject to a different set of rules and scrutiny?

East Broadway was once teeming with Chinese businesses as far down as Clinton Street, yet in recent years, gentrification has pushed them back to Pike Street. Many of these mom-and-pops struggle to survive month-to-month. Hwa Yuan is a beautifully designed tri-level restaurant serving traditional Chinese specialties, and should stay competitive. It could serve to revitalize the dining scene on this block of Chinatown to draw visitors and diners to the area. But there is no OP. (It also marks Hwa Yuan’s return after the original location – just two doors away – closed in the late 1980s.) The area new hotels draw international business people, and we need places that would attract them to dine, hold business meetings and stay in neighborhood.

One would think the local community board would have the area’s economic health in mind; however, this example shows otherwise.

Are there special interests involved here?

Recent Stories

Sampling the Lost Cuisine Found in ‘The German Jewish Cookbook’

In our current food-obsessed culture – especially in places like New York City – it seems that we are global food citizens. We have easy access to an endless variety of restaurants and specialty food stores, which enable us to explore foods from all over the world. And we can easily watch a multitude of […]

Lakwena Brings her Kaleidoscopic Vision to the Bowery Mural Wall

The season is changing, which means another participant for the revolving door that is the Bowery Mural Wall. Earlier this week, contractors sanded then resurfaced the two-story canvas in preparation for the next artist on the docket. We are told that the latest is Lakwena, a London-based artist who specializes in colorful, “kaleidoscopic” patterns. She […]

Six Years Later, Dewey Dufresne’s ‘BYGGYZ’ Finally Opens on Clinton Street

Don’t hold your breath any longer, for the time is here. Dewey Dufresne’s sandwich shop, BYGGYZ, finally debuted on the Lower East Side. The promise is fulfilled. BYGGYZ opened at 37-39 Clinton Street yesterday afternoon for the lunchtime rush. Truth be told, it bears an old-school, albeit welcome, deli counter vibe. (The previous tenant was […]

‘Van Leeuwen’ to Open LES Artisanal Ice Cream Shop on Ludlow Street Next Month

It’s been over a year since the music died at 172 Ludlow Street. That’s when Ludlow Guitars decamped from the Lower East Side after spending seventeen years on the block. Now its former Hell Square headquarters – where the business had moved in 2010 – is to become a trendy ice cream parlor. Artisanal ice […]

‘Marm Cafe’ on Clinton Street is Kaput, Transitions to ‘Bricia’

The end of the road is here for Marm Cafe. The three-year-old corner establishment at 79 Clinton Street hasn’t been open since at least mid-August, its fate finally sealed this week with those brown paper shades. We communicated with ownership via email several weeks ago and were told that the cafe was actually on holiday. […]