COVID-19 is Just Another Test of Endurance for Earl Spicy

Imagine standing atop the pedestal of your profession; only to jump off, move halfway across the world, and start over.

For Earl Spicy owners Bohong Yang and Qiong Zhou, there’s no imagination necessary. In 2013, “total reset” became their reality.

Yang’s Rise to Fame

Bohong Yang always knew he wanted to be a chef. He committed himself to the craft at an early age, using any spare time to further hone his skills. After attending a top culinary school in China, it was time to put these skills to the test.

Yang’s career trajectory is a lesson in absolute vertical movement. He never settled for less, always focused on moving up the culinary ladder no matter how long it took. One gig led to another, then another, and another.

Born in Sichuan, he became a household name before moving to Northeastern Anshan, China with his wife, Qiong Zhou, and their then two-year-old daughter, Si. Soon, Yang found himself a recipient of the National First-Class Chef certificate, a known name in Anshan, and someone still hungry for more.

Cue the business plan.

With the help of his passionate and hard-working wife (who, at the time, was serving her own “customers” as an elementary school teacher), Yang started what would soon become a small battalion of restaurants.

He became known for an uber-popular dish consisting of boiled fish with a green Sichuan peppercorn spice, as well as a must-have crab with a special hot chili sauce. All across Anshan, residents relished the opportunity to try the cuisine of a man who found happiness in others’ appreciation of his food.

Family First

Maybe long-term celebrated success leaves one itching for a new challenge. Or maybe your daughter moves to an entirely new continent in pursuit of her PhD.

Regardless, Yang and Zhou’s daughter; Si, did in fact pursue studies in America. Eager to keep their tight-knit family together, Yang made the bold decision to sell his and Zhou’s Szechuan restaurants and venture to the States. Similar to the Anshan move, it would mean starting over.

Si started her PhD work in 2010, with her parents arriving three years later. Once a celebrated Chinese chef, Yang found himself and his wife back at square one. And beyond that, square one in a country they knew little about and whose people spoke a language that they didn’t speak.

There’s many a tale where this type of leap ends in a swift fall. But when you’re Bohong Yang, whose culinary pursuits are more of a calling than a choice; your feet tend to always find firm ground.

The family had a friend in San Francisco, so they moved to the Bay Area. Yang always knew he wanted to open another business, but he also knew that he was now operating in a world completely different than what he was used to.

In order to fast track his learning curve, he held several different positions in various Szechuan restaurants, absorbing the ways of the U.S. restaurant industry and holding that information tight.

In April 2019, six years of hard work came to fruition in the form of Szechuan restaurant Earl Spicy.

Sparring with COVID-19

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. Yang and Zhou opened Earl Spicy just over a year ago. Any restaurateur knows that the first year of business comes with its own platter of challenges. Mix in COVID-19 and, well, maybe “sparring” is putting things lightly.

Yang and Zhou are business warriors. They’ve unfortunately had to lose their staff, which means right now the show only goes on with their own daily performances.  

Luckily, they also have the help of their daughter, who somehow manages to juggle a laborious, full-time IT position while helping her parents traverse the COVID-19 landscape.

Si speaks English, which has been pivotal in helping her parent’s business navigate loan applications (they were just approved for a Paycheck Protection Program [PPP] loan). Plus, there’s the matter of a building lease. This, too, has required her assistance.

More than anything, Si is focused on helping her parents expand their takeout menu, as well as looking for ways to garner community support.

COVID-19 has been an immediate crisis, but one that will have lasting effects on the restaurant community. Be it people choosing to stay home rather than risk a trip to a local restaurant, or restaurants having to adjust to a long list of post-quarantine stipulations, Si and her parents expect challenges to persist.

But as long as Yang finds himself in a kitchen, his eclectic variety of delicious Szechuan fare will keep coming.

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