Arieh Smith, better known as the YouTuber Xiaomanyc, has gone viral for handing out five $1000 tips to show his appreciation for beleaguered Chinatown restaurants in New York City suffering poor business during the pandemic.
“They’re so close,” Mr Smith told the New York Post. “I can taste this recovery coming back, but it would be such a shame if now these restaurants were forced to close or lay off employees.”
The gesture certainly got attention. The clip has nearly 2 million views since being published on Thursday.
The vlogger, whose channel focuses on Chinese language and culture, first became interested in China during an immersion program in Beijing in college, and says in the video he wanted to help out these struggling neighbourhood institutions, which often operated on ever slimmer margins than their counterparts in the notoriously tough restaurant industry.
“Not only do they provide great food to the people in the neighbourhood, but they also support a lot of employees and they’re all family run, and they’re just really amazing and great people,” Mr Smith says at the opening of the video. “I’m just helping them out in whatever small way I can.”
The online learning company Skillshare sponsored the video.
In the clip, many of the restaurateurs are overwhelmed by the tips, delivered in traditional red envelopes for Chinese New Year, and share how they’ve been struggling during the pandemic.
“I hope we get this pandemic over with soon,” an employee at Manhattan’s Spicy Village tells Mr Smith. “We can really only survive if we get back to indoor dining, otherwise we can’t cover our expenses. We’re just hanging in there honestly.”
Chinatowns around the country have been struggling with a related set of crises. The pandemic has tanked businesses like restaurants, common in Chinatowns, that depend on indoor traffic. What’s more, community leaders say racism and xenophobia has made business even worse, as some customers follow Donald Trump’s lead and brand the coronavirus the “China virus.”
Things have gotten so out of hand that Asian communities say they’re suffering increasing hate crimes and violence during the pandemic. Data on the issue is lacking, but New York and San Francisco both experienced upticks in hate crimes against Asian-Americans https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/02/25/asian-hate-crime-attack-patrol/?arc404=true.
Food has been central to the activism around supporting Chinatowns during the pandemic, such as cookbook author and activist Grace Young’s efforts to promote restaurants in New York’s Chinatowns.