'Nobody is dining out.' Palo Alto Chinese restaurant Taste is on the brink of permanently shutting down amidst coronavirus spread | Peninsula Foodist | Elena Kadvany | Almanac Online |

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'Nobody is dining out.' Palo Alto Chinese restaurant Taste is on the brink of permanently shutting down amidst coronavirus spread

Uploaded: Mar 10, 2020
For more updates on the coronavirus impact on local restaurants, read this story: Restaurants start to shutter, as public health restrictions increase and dining out declines.

Taste, a Sichuan restaurant in downtown Palo Alto, made less than $600 on Monday, with only two lunchtime diners and about four at dinner.

The 423 University Ave. restaurant's dine-in sales are down 80 to 90 percent and delivery dropped about 50 percent since last month, which owner Sandy Liu attributed to mounting fears about the coronavirus.

With the decline, which has been intensifying since late January, she's struggling to make rent, pay her 10 employees and cover other costs -- to the point that she's on the verge of closing the restaurant for good.

"Basically nobody is dining out — for my restaurant, a Chinese restaurant," Liu said. "Who can afford to keep losing money every day?"

The dining room at Taste in downtown Palo Alto, pictured in 2018. Photo by Natalia Nazarova.

Restaurants throughout the area are reporting slower business — many due to companies canceling large reservations or private events — and are taking additional precautions to protect both diners and their own businesses. The owner of the upscale Plumed Horse in Saratoga took a perhaps unprecedented step this week to eliminate half of the restaurant's dining room to allow for a minimum of six feet between tables. Food truck company Off the Grid is moving all of its weekly markets, including in Menlo Park, to takeout only. Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park announced on Instagram that it would be closing earlier in the evenings "as we are trying to find the best way to survive the impact on our business from the current health situation." Chinese restaurants, including in San Francisco's Chinatown, have been hit particularly hard, according to media reports, despite elected officials' criticisms of "unwarranted" fears that the Chinese community is linked to the coronavirus.

Liu opened Taste, her first restaurant, in late 2017. Her father was a chef in China. She said she invested more than a half million dollars to start the business.

Recently, she was already grappling with the economic pressures that make it difficult for many independent Bay Area restaurants to operate today, such as rising labor costs and expensive rent. A construction project near the restaurant also affected sales, she said. Catering and delivery orders, despite third-party delivery apps' high commission rates, Liu said, helped keep Taste afloat.

But dine-in sales started to drop more significantly in late January, when the coronavirus first started spreading in China, and catering and delivery eventually followed suit, though not as precipitously, Liu said.

Photo by Natalia Nazarova.

The coronavirus has underscored local restaurants' reliance on tech companies for catering and other business, with a decline after many companies encouraged employees to work from home and to limit travel. (In San Francisco, restaurant AL's Deli closed last weekend, citing 100% cancellation of corporate orders over the previous week as a factor. "A couple of slow weeks, and I think it's very uncertain what’s going to happen to a lot of the small restaurants in the city," chef-owner Aaron London told Eater SF.)

The long-term economic impact on restaurants and other businesses in the hospitality industry remains to be seen as public health officials urge increasing restrictions, including social distancing and cancellation of large events throughout the Bay Area. In Palo Alto, where there have been no confirmed coronavirus cases to date, the city stated Monday that it is modifying or canceling more than 30 events to limit the spread of respiratory viruses and protect residents at the highest risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19. Santa Clara County, which reported its first death due to the coronavirus this week, announced a mandatory ban on all events of 1,000 people or more starting Wednesday, March 11.

"I don't know what the government can do or the local community can do for us," Liu said. "People are scared."

Andrew Chau, co-founder of Boba Guys, which has a location in Palo Alto, testified about the impact of the coronavirus on small businesses in front of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Small Business on Tuesday.

"As we enter the third month since the news broke, many businesses— particularly those affected in these ethnic enclaves— are holding on for dear life. They do not have sufficient cash reserves to weather this storm," he said. "The economic hardship on each business owner then trickles down to the labor force as many places are letting go of their employees to cut costs. The destabilization of labor and discretionary income will have ripple effects throughout our economy, well extending outside our community."

Chau urged support for a loan assistance program that would give small businesses "runway to adjust to the changes in the marketplace, even if it is caused initially by misinformation and unwarranted stigma."

The state's Employee Development Department is encouraging employers who are experiencing a slowdown in their businesses as a result of the coronavirus to apply for an unemployment insurance work-sharing program.

Judy Kleinberg, president of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that the organization is considering launching a "shop local" campaign to encourage people to support local businesses.

"It's a very dire situation," she said. "We're mindful of our public health responsibility to businesses and we're also mindful of the fact that businesses are hurting, really hurting right now."

In San Francisco, the Chamber of Commerce is petitioning the city government for an economic stimulus package to protect businesses that have suffered major losses due to the outbreak, according to the San Francisco Examiner. Business groups are asking the city to delay monthly and annual tax collection and to waive retail-related fees for one year.

"I have no idea what will happen (tomorrow)," Liu said. "Most likely I will shut down the business."

Editor's update: Taste remained open as of Sunday, March 15.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 3:48 pm

It's sad that this happened. With all the burdens local government and California put on small businesses like restaurants, it's just too much to weather a crisis.

Posted by really?, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 5:00 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 5:14 pm

Could be because the prices are sky high and the food is less than blah. Service was poor as well. Sorry, but we went there when it opened and as we left we regretted it and knew we would never go back. The motto of many new Palo Alto restaurants lately seems to be, the privilege of dining in Palo Alto - the food is lousy but you pay double to make up for it. Just go in and have an order of their skewers and you will know what I am talking about.

Posted by FB and Google, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 5:46 pm

Donald Trump tells me the business environment is great!!!

Every affluent Facebook and Google employee is looking for food to be delivered to their house right now, because they can't get their three free meals at work.

Nobody to blame but themselves for going out of business in this business environment.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 5:54 pm

I reckon that within a week (maybe the weekend after next) people will be so fed up with staying in, eating at home, cooking, take out, that people regardless will go out just to get away from the doom and gloom.

Hang in there restaurants, your diners will be returning.

Posted by poison more likely, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 6:33 pm

the air pollution lowers your immunity -CHEMICALS are mkore to FEAR than ''viruses''. youre toxified by tech industry chemicals in air that sensitive people react to DAILY. you are being taught to fear organic earth rather than synthetic chemicals and drugs rotting our peoples. we have alien contact-we have credibility.

Posted by Another victim, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 6:39 pm

In addition to humans, the virus has taken a toll on many other things: airlines, stocks, public transportation and ... yes, restaurants.

It's a little early to say that a certain type of restaurant is being avoided because if you walk into any restaurant then you will see that many tables are open - even (or especially?) the ones that used to be packed.

People are just avoiding public places and are staying home (as they are recommended to do by their companies, health providers and government officials).

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 7:17 pm

[Portion removed due to unverifiable statement.]

We like to think everything is perfect in America and could not get any better. Best country in the world, richest country in the world, most powerful, etc. The thing is that we are not getting any better, it is all about increasing profits by exploiting other Americans. These low wage workers cannot afford to live, let alone take days off. They don't have enough for housing, let alone education or a retirement program, and our Republican party wants to cut even Social Security from low wage people. That compares with slavery, wage slavery. There is no morality in a place where the bottom line is dog eat dog.

We would not have most of these problems in the sickness or disease area if we took hygiene seriously. Give people a living wage. Help low wage workers with their housing ... or pay the heavy tax of getting sick from going out to eat or being in public. Give people sick leave, paid time off, and health care. These are no-brainer steps a country that though of itself as a real civilization would take, that America just blows off because the super-rich people who run everything just care about their own profits and taking everything.

Reading up about pandemics and epidemiology there could be diseases that make it to humans with long incubation periods, higher infections rates and higher fatality numbers. We are just amazingly lucky we have not been hit with something like that, and since we cannot rule it out for the future we should be investing in an airtight medical infrastructure, not cutting everything in sight to give tax breaks to billionaires.

Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 7:36 pm

The county health department needs to do a better job of educating customers on the safety of restaurants. They just posted a public order to cancel any "mass gathering" where people are located near each other for extended periods of time. Does this apply to restaurants or not? Are restaurants making adjustments to make sure customers are not too close to each other? Is food safety being enhanced based on this virus?

Posted by PAMom, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 7:37 pm

Very sad to read this! Our family loves this restaurant. To the folks who say the food is blah - I wonder what you ordered? They have great authentic spicy Sichuan dishes at this restaurant. Prices are reasonable too, especially for Univ Ave.

Posted by Googler Redwood City, a resident of another community,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 7:50 pm

I'm a guy who has worn a mask on airplanes. Wore a mask in a crowded elevator today. Yet I ate in a restaurant today-- the trick was, I had a 1 1/4 lb lobster in the shell. Shell was boiled, total sanitation, meat was untouched inside. Ate french fries just fried in hot oil. I ate outside in the fresh air, 20 feet between me and the next diner (only 3 diners there, alas.) Server on his own gave me a hand sanitizer to start and to finish, and he wiped down the outside table with another before I ate. I feel so sorry for the Palo Alto restaurant. Go on the attack like my fish restaurant.

Posted by crowds, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 8:14 pm

We went to Reposada for dinner on Sun and it was packed. Same with the popular sushi place where we dined in another city. I'm not convinced that people aren't going out to dinner as much.

Posted by Tinker, a resident of Professorville,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 8:41 pm

And yet the line at Zareen's is still out the door. Of Zareen's is ever quiet all day, then a) I'll be surprised, b) I might believe this coronavirus is starting to affect business, and c) I'll go there even more often, because there won't be a line for a table.

Posted by George, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 8:46 pm

Went out to eat in Palo Alto twice this weekend, and both restaurants were packed. Sounds like Taste has other problems, and it's not a COVID-19 issue.

Posted by PA resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 9:53 pm

This restaurant was always empty while others were packed. I dined there twice. Sorry that I won't go back.

Posted by PA resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 9:53 pm

This restaurant was always empty while others were packed. I dined there twice. Sorry that I won't go back.

Posted by Doug, a resident of another community,
on Mar 10, 2020 at 10:50 pm

That storefront is cursed. How many restaurants have come and gone from that site in the last decade? Taste, Les Bisous, Crawfish fusion, Taxim, Krung Siam. Am I missing any? I wouldn't invest a dime in a business moving in there.

Posted by JRF, a resident of Los Altos Hills,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 8:18 am

I like Taste, food is good and prices are inline with what I would expect in Palo Alto. I would hate to see them go.

Posted by Overkill, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 8:32 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 9:08 am

> Doug, a resident of another community
> That storefront is cursed. How many restaurants have come and gone from that site in the last decade?

The Thai place, Krung Siam, was pretty good according to a Thai friend that went with me several times to eat there. But then again what do I know, I liked to go to the Cheesecake Factory now and then?

If I recall that was also the home to Celia's Mexican restaurant that I thought was great. Celia's moved out and the Thai place moved in. Celia's moved to Menlo Park and is still open presumably doing well. Does anyone know what was there before Celia's?

I think the problem is sky-high rents that make the restaurant business in downtown Palo Alto almost impossible unless they are self-serve or very high end. Pretending to be high-end doesn't cut it, and that is what that location has housed in the last iterations.

I think is also why we see so many dessert places ... ice cream, cup-cakes, frozen yogurt, etc, they do not have the overhead of a full-fledged restaurant.

It's a shame. In the 80's and 90's I practically lived downtown or at T&C going out almost every night to eat, see a show or buy a book or some music. Now downtown is a rarity for me and most people I know.

We used to have quite a nice little town here.

Posted by sherber, a resident of Mountain View,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 11:05 am

CrescentParkAnon you are SO correct. Thanks for posting.

Posted by Scott, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 1:40 pm

Love eating at this place. Every time I walk by with my kids I tell them it's my favorite place on University Ave. They ask why can't we eat there? And they ask me what the name of the place is? My wife tells the kids of course it is too spicy. The name had been hard to remember. DDelicious, with a capital DD . Hope it doesn't close.

Palo Alto �" Please check this place out!!

Posted by BusinessOwner, a resident of University South,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 3:01 pm

SAD -- This place is GREAT AUTHENTIC food!

Posted by Redneck Chinese Food, a resident of another community,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 3:59 pm

Can anyone suggest a good Chop Suey joint? The kind they used to have back in the 50s & 60s?

Most were small cafe-like diners & served up stuff like Egg Foo Yung.

Shouldn't cost any more than $5-6 dollars I'd Imagine.

Posted by Rick, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 5:05 pm

Ha Boba Guys has a line out the door everyday! Ramen Nagi was packed yesterday too. I definitely think people are skipping "mediocre" food options though. Thanks to China, this is hurting workers, businesses, the stock market, even the real estate markets!

Posted by Palo Altan, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 6:04 pm

We went to our favorite Palo Alto Chinese restaurant last weekend, Green Elephant in Charleston Center. It was full. We had to wait for a while to be seated. Great food and service, as always. Will go back again this weekend. Never been to Taste, so can't comment on their food, prices or service.

Posted by CC, a resident of Stanford,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 7:16 pm

I personally love the food here (especially the spicy dishes) along with many other friends so this makes me very sad to hear that the business is doing poorly as of late. Please continue to support asian restaurants and shops as those are people too. People should support people.


Posted by TimR, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 11, 2020 at 11:46 pm

Maybe all the toxic smoke belching from Rooh is keeping people away from Taste. Because I walk downtown at lunchtime every day, and it seems other places have business. And the line at Ramen Nagi is still pretty long, although maybe shorter than in the past.

Posted by Thomas Welborn, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Mar 12, 2020 at 6:11 am

I wouldn't blame coronavirus for all of these businesses's woes. The cost of renting and leasing real estate to operate a restaurant is exorbitantly high. If not for the ridiculous cost of real estate many of these businesses would have enough savings to withstand losses. It is unclear how some of the businesses in the area are surviving despite coronavirus - some of them are clearly hanging on by a thin thread for years or maybe over a decade.

Posted by Eat To Live Rather Live To Eat, a resident of Community Center,
on Mar 12, 2020 at 3:14 pm

There's more to life than dwelling on where one is going to dine out. Seriously.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 12, 2020 at 10:27 pm

One thing constructive that restaurants could do is at least temporarily remove some tables and allow customers to distance each other from each other. If their load is lower, at least people might feel better about going out of eat if they are jam packed up against each other.

Posted by Eat To Live Rather Live To Eat, a resident of Community Center,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 8:48 am

If food inventories & manpower hours are going to waste, why not simply offer free meals to anyone willing to sit down & have a complimentary bite to eat?

That should fill up the tables and folks could tip appropriately and/or leave a donation.

Good advertising/restaurant promotion & it says 'here's a middle finger to COVID-19'.

Posted by resident, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 2:52 pm

The latest health order from the county health department says no public gatherings with more than 100 people and customers must be separated by at least 6 feet. Restaurants are included in this order. How are local restaurants responding to this order?

Posted by WorkingFromHome, a resident of another community,
on Mar 13, 2020 at 4:45 pm

Many of the regular lunchtime crowd is simply not around. I'm sure my company is not the only one in Downtown Palo Alto where nearly everyone is working from home. This isn't hysteria, but the recommended practice to ensure minimizing the risk of spreading infections at this time.

I hope Taste (and others) can hunker down and weather this out (maybe get some help from the city/state), as I liked going there every week. Even better, would be if the property owners would waive the rent until the crisis has passed.

Posted by Father of 3, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 14, 2020 at 1:42 pm

This article about dining out has nearly 25,000 views. Amazing what's top-o-mind around here.

Posted by Barbara, a resident of another community,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 1:05 am

If you want to support your local eatery, but are concerned about the virus consider buying a gift card or two for yourself and others to use in the future.

Posted by college student, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 15, 2020 at 2:11 pm

"This article about dining out has nearly 25,000 views. Amazing what's top-o-mind around here"

Are you serious? COVID is having an awful impact on small businesses, including restaurants. Combined with the exorbitant rents that these businesses have to pay, I would argue that this is an issue that deserves attention. I expect many small businesses to be gravely affected by this crisis.

This has been a problem before COVID though. Every time I return to Palo Alto from my university, it seems like half of the small businesses on University ave have gone out of business, only to be replaced by something else that will just go out of business in a few years time. Put simply, most small business owners cannot afford to operate here. Palo Alto's culture has been sucked dry over the past few decades.

Posted by DIY Chinese Food, a resident of Stanford,
on Mar 16, 2020 at 9:25 am

Chinese food is not that difficult to prepare if one is willing to (1) do the prep work like cutting/chopping, (2) procure the necessary seasonings/ingredients, and (3) purchase a wok & a rice cooker.

For example...stir fry is a very inexpensive dish to prepare & anyone can plug-in a rice cooker, won ton = easy to make (essentially Chinese ravioli) & as far as mein dishes, well Marco Polo brought noodles back from China to Italy & the rest is history (i.e. pasta).

About the only faux paus clods are those who still eat Chinese food with a fork as even the cooking is done with oversized chopsticks.

Posted by 40-year Chinese cook, a resident of Mountain View,
on Mar 16, 2020 at 11:05 am

"Chinese food is not that difficult to prepare if one is willing to ... (3) purchase a wok & a rice cooker."

You can do it very well without either (though both or useful). Dogma on such points often indicates inexperience.

"Marco Polo brought noodles back from China to Italy & the rest is history (i.e. pasta)"

No, that (apparently tongue-in-cheek) story in a 20th-century US trade publication, though it entered pop culture, was always discredited. Italian literature records pasta long before Marco Polo.

"About the only faux paus clods are those who still eat Chinese food with a fork..."

Dining at Bay Area Chinese restaurants with diverse companions, you may experience, as I have, that the only people at the table using forks are those who grew up in Chinese culture. (Because the restaurant serves on plates, considered awkward by diners who grew up using their chopsticks with bowls.) Americans who like Chinese food tend to use chopsticks with plates.

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