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?

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