Mayor Watson tours Ottawa’s Chinatown restaurants to cast off coronavirus stigma

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From left: Mayor Jim Watson visits Ottawa's Jadeland with councillor Keith Egli and Dr. Vera Etches, seen here shaking hands with previous owner Betty Chan. Photo by Jessica Alberga

Amid the growing global concerns and stigma surrounding the novel coronavirus, a string of businesses in Ottawa’s Chinatown neighbourhood invited Mayor Jim Watson on a Somerset Street food tour Friday to help dispel misconceptions surrounding the outbreak.

“With the coronavirus situation that’s engulfing the world, there’s a lot of false information and rumours about everything from hand hygiene to where you can go and eat,” Watson told members of the media joining him for the tour. 

“We wanted to come out here and give a boost to the restaurants and Ottawa’s Chinatown here on Somerset and say they’re open for business, they need your business and support because they’re up against a lot of social media that’s inaccurate that says restaurants have any form of contaminants,” he said.

The first stop on the tour was Jadeland, which has been open in Chinatown since 1997.

Jadeland’s owner, Jimmy Chan, was grateful to have the mayor in for a visit. 

“With this time of year, our business is usually slow to begin with, but now with everything happening, it’s really slowed down and it affects everyone, mentally,” Chan said.

“Chinatown is quite close, we all know most of the owners, and when we see them, they say it’s been slow,” he said.

Chan said he was thankful to his loyal diners who continue to embrace Jadeland.

“We have regular customers, so we’re able to manage because we’ve been around for quite some time, 23 years,” he said. “But I know other restaurants that haven’t been around as long, and it’s harder to maintain the business.”

Mekong owner Winnie Zhang said she was thrilled to meet and serve Watson today.

Zhang mentioned that, like Jadeland, the ratio of patrons taking meals to go as opposed to dining in has grown significantly.

“There’s been a lot more take-out orders ​– more of our customers are feeling comfortable eating at home,” said Zhang. 

Grace Xin, the Chinatown BIA’s executive director, told Watson it’s evident that business has been slow as they sat in an empty restaurant during lunch hours. The mayor noted that it’s more important than ever to show up in-person to Chinatown businesses to shut down misinformation.

“Early on (in the novel coronavirus pandemic), we saw all sorts of really unfortunate comments bordering on racism in terms of kids treating Chinese kids differently in school yards and so on,” Watson said. 

“We need to ensure the community rallies behind these restaurants.”

Chatime owner Simon Huang said his Somerset bubble tea shop hasn’t experienced a big difference in terms of customer flow. Overall, however, he’s seen a drastic change in activity throughout Chinatown. 

“I think there’s a lot of hype with what’s going on, and I hate to use the word ‘fake news,’ but I just hope that everyone trusts what the city and health professionals tell them,” Zhang said.

Councillor Keith Egli also noted that the best location for residents to get the most accurate and up-to-date information is on Ottawa Public Health’s website and the city’s YouTube page.

Ottawa’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, stated again there are no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the city. She added there wouldn't be a particular area or neighbourhood that’s at a greater risk than another. 

“This is not related to ethnicity or background, and absolutely it’s important to highlight that there are wonderful businesses along this street and community that we need to support,” said Etches.