Before the quarantine, there was a line out the door.
Several months ago, the wait time for Dragon Beaux was about 45 minutes on the weekends. Staffed with a little over 70 employees, the restaurant was flourishing, and it was their approach to Chinese cuisine, ”uncompromised flavors with pristine natural ingredients,” that fueled their thriving market.
Then on March 15, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued the state-wide shelter in place order, causing restaurants and cafes to close their doors to the public, with the exception of takeout and delivery services.
As with many other local restaurants, the effects of the order caused a serious disruption in Dragon Beaux’s workflow. For starters, limiting services to only takeout and delivery has caused a major decline in sales. As a result, many employees from Dragon Beaux were laid off, with at most 15 employees now working at the restaurant. Perhaps one of the hardest hit areas in the general restaurant business is the workforce, with many workers experiencing layoffs or reduced hours.
“It’s really tough,” says Kevin Chu, General Manager of Dragon Beaux. “For takeout we’re still pretty popular, but no matter how we do, it’s hard to compare to before.”
Dragon Beaux is just one of the many local restaurants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. For local independent businesses such as this one, the situation is devastating. Amid the major shift, the spark of Dragon Beaux’s brilliance remains alive and persistent in the food it continues to provide to the local community.
Even before the quarantine, Dragon Beaux’s mission focused on the balance between tradition and change. According to the restaurant’s website, founders Willy Ng and Jenny Huang created the restaurant in 2015 to infuse a modern touch on traditional Chinese dining.
A brief browse through the restaurant’s Instagram page or their website does more than justify the intrigue behind the unique recipes they developed. Some of their most popular items include Five Guys Xiao Long Bao and Wagyu Beef Fried Rice.
“Old school Chinese restaurants, they don’t use Japanese Wagyu Beef, they don’t use truffles. We mix up those kinds of ingredients into our menu,” says Chu. “The new generation, they want to see something new.”
The genius behind these recipes comes from the owners themselves and a team of chefs, many who came from Ng and Huang’s original restaurant, Koi Palace. While the menu still features some of the classic dim sum dishes like Classic Shrimp Dumplings and Black Bean Sauce Spare Ribs, there is intention and mastery in the experimental quality of the more unique dishes.
Five Guys Xiao Long Bao is a plate of five different colored soup dumplings, possessing the classic shape and essence of a soup-filled dumpling. The twist? Each skin is flavored and colored differently, featuring beets, turmeric, spinach and squid ink as flavors. The different fillings are equally novel with the turmeric skin paired with crab roe, squid ink with black truffle and spinach with kale. One is easily hooked.
Although incomparable to the times before the shelter in place order, Chu says that business is still flowing. Many customers remain loyal to the restaurant, and it’s their enthusiasm for Dragon Beaux’s unique take on traditional Chinese dim sum that sticks with the community.
In moments such as this, that enthusiasm is extremely crucial.
“Whenever [the customers] come in to buy takeout, that’s really supportive of the business,” Chu says. “In this difficult situation, they still spend the money and time on us. That’s already a big support.”
Customers can order on UberEats and GrubHub for delivery. If it’s possible for someone to pick up, that’s a big help too, says Chu.
Right now, Chu maintains that dine-in service may resume in mid-July, although he’s vigilant about following the city’s safety guidelines.
“Everyday [the customers] keep asking me, ‘When will you open? When will you open?’ But the decision doesn’t come from us. It comes from the city of San Francisco,” Chu says.
Despite the current climate, one can find comfort in the persistence and loyalty of Dragon Beaux’s customers. As the current state of affairs evolves, Dragon Beaux anxiously awaits the day it can reopen its doors to the public.
An eager community will be ready to be seated.