Celebrating the Inspiring and Resilient Stories of AAPI Business Owners May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and this month, we're highlighting the stories of Asian business owners and how their culture has impacted their business owner experience
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In the past year, Asian-American business owners have faced incredible challenges. The rise of hate crimes toward Asian Americans has skyrocketed, furthered by the pandemic and the racist rhetoric tied to the virus. From an economic standpoint, in April 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, consumer activity in Chinatowns across the U.S. was down by 75%*. And while today we're seeing those communities steadily rebound, there is so much more to be done. Matthew Wong, owner of Tea and Milk in New York City, observed that "in the time after the pandemic, many people saw Asian Americans as the virus itself."
This hate is hurtful, unfounded, and unacceptable, to say the least, but it's what many in the API community are and have been facing every day. Matthew continued, "As an Asian-American business owner, it's rough because we don't know what's going to happen to our staff. We don't know what's going to happen to our business. What if someone comes in and vandalizes or hurts our staff?"
As we share the stories of these entrepreneurs during API Heritage Month, we celebrate their strength and resilience as they face unimaginable circumstances in addition to the challenges of just being a small business owner in general. Consumers are also increasingly looking to support Asian-owned businesses —according to our latest Economic Impact Report on diverse businesses, the rate of Yelp searches for Asian-owned businesses in the U.S. increased by 3,404% in February 2021 compared to the same period the year prior.
The tenacity of these business owners is inspiring, and I'm honored to help share their stories.
Finding Cultural Inspiration
"Chinese-American food and the business model that supports it evolved out of a specific diaspora. And so it's important to refer back to the generations and the people that came before us. A good friend of mine grew up in Chinese-American restaurants. His father is 90-something years old and can barely hear. And when we were developing our General Tso's recipe, I was confused about what General Tso's actually is because every time I ate it, it was a little different. So we called him when we were developing ours and the funny story is that in most Chinese-American restaurants, Sesame Chicken is General Tso's Chicken, but it has sesame seeds on top of it. It's exactly the same sauce."
"These are the things you would never learn or know unless you asked the OGs, the legends that have been doing this their whole life and moved to this country to do this. Respecting tradition means involving the people that came before you. In my case, as a chef developing dishes, it's how I can learn dishes from them, but also how to actually run the restaurant. It's asking, "How do you keep food crispy?" That sort of knowledge comes from the culture that precedes us. So it's important to refer back to that and not lose sight of it."
Entrepreneurial Experience and the "American Dream"
Tim Lo, co-founder of career counseling business Your Next Jump, takes a look at the term coined the "American dream" and the journey of making it in this country.
"One of our very first clients was a guy named Sam. He was an immigrant who came here when he was very young from Africa and was working for the city as a mechanic on city vehicles (trash trucks, etc.) And at night, he would go to school to get his IT degree. He was probably making 30, 40, $50,000 a year. This is a story that's not just for immigrants, this is for Americans. This is the American dream. This is the land of opportunity. This is why my parents - who were born in China - came to this country. They wanted the best for my sister and me."
"We were both fortunate enough to be born in the United States, given opportunities that most of the world doesn't have. I think most Americans don't realize how amazingly blessed we are to be in this country, even with all the divisiveness that we have."
"For Sam, he did the hard work. He went to school at night. He got his IT degree. He got his certifications. And he hustled and worked hard through all of that.We worked with him to build his resume, and he ended up landing a job where he made six figures, and that was the American dream."
"And it wasn't just for him - it was for his wife and his kids, and his kids are now born in this amazing country. That is the start. That is what immigrants want when they come here. Growing up, my mom had told me, 'This is America. You can be whatever profession you want.' America allows for and gives the opportunity for people to carve the path that they want to."
"I think the founders of America created this country to do that. And so among all of our issues, all of our divisiveness, and all of the things that stink and reek about this country, I think there's just so many amazing things. Sometimes I think immigrants are the ones who can see that most clearly - more than Americans who have been here for a long time - because people are still lining up to come to this great experiment of American democracy."
"Chinese-American restaurants face unique obstacles, and these obstacles are oftentimes the result of systemic racism. Many of these obstacles are a long time coming. They did not appear in 2020 because somebody said kung flu virus. A lot of the difficulty in the disadvantage has been built throughout the years."
"And it's an entangled subject, but I would hope that most of us Asian restaurateurs - and this is certainly what we've seen in New York - is that Asian restaurateurs are using both their platform and their business to do something about it in the long term."
If you're looking for a way to show your support to the community, Yelp recently announced a new Asian-owned business attribute. Business owners can add the attribute to display on their Yelp Page. This free, searchable attribute helps consumers find and support Asian-owned businesses in their communities.
All data is as of March 11, 2021. Yelp's Chinatown data is based on US Chinatowns with sufficient data in the cities of Seattle, WA; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Honolulu, HI; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Manhattan, NY; Paradise, NV; Philadelphia, PA; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Spring Valley, WA; Honolulu, HI; Washington DC; and Oakland, CA.