Lesson of the Day: ‘Chinese Restaurants Are Closing. That’s a Good Thing, the Owners Say.’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Chinese Restaurants Are Closing. That’s a Good Thing, the Owners Say.’

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In “Chinese Restaurants Are Closing. That’s a Good Thing, the Owners Say.” Amelia Nierenberg and Quoctrung Bui look at the connection between the decline in Chinese restaurants across America and the economic mobility of the second generation. In this lesson, you will consider businesses that make up your own community and ideas of success among different generations and families.

Scroll through the featured article and choose one of the three graphs or charts to analyze. Instead of looking at the title and description to make sense of the graph, try focusing on the axes and the content of the graph itself. Then, use these three questions from our “What’s Going On in This Graph?” feature to help you interpret the graph:

  • What do you notice? If you make a claim, tell us what you notice that supports that claim.

  • What do you wonder? What are you curious about that comes from what you notice in the graphs?

As you read the article, see if your interpretation of the graph is similar or different from how it is used in the article.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What do the Yelp statistics reveal about the changing number of Chinese restaurants in metropolitan areas? Using the graph, determine how those changes compare to the changing numbers of other types of restaurants in major cities?

2. Why does Jennifer 8. Lee, a former New York Times journalist, say that it is “a success that these restaurants are closing”? Generally, what are some of the difficulties that immigrant-owned restaurants face and how are those different from the reasons that Chinese-owned restaurants are closing?

3. How have historical events such as the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s affected Chinese immigration to the United States? In what ways does Tom Sit’s story reflect this history?

4. Ed Schoenfeld, a restaurateur and chef, described the “golden age of Chinese cooking in America.” How and why did the cuisine change during that time?

5. Jennifer Lee, an author and professor of sociology, said, “The goal has never been to continue those businesses.” How does the graph, “Most common fields for self-employed immigrants,” support Ms. Lee’s claim?

6. What strategies and approaches have Wilson Tang, the owner of Nom Wah Tea Parlor, and the team at Junzi Kitchen, a fast-casual Chinese restaurant chain, used as they manage their restaurants?

7. What qualities are important to Mr. and Ms. Sit when they think about someone else running Eng’s? What can this tell you about why their business has been successful for so many years? Does it make you think of any businesses in your community?

Choose one of the following prompts to either look at restaurants in your community or reflect on the idea of success within a family.

Option 1: Businesses in Your Community

What are the businesses that make up your community? Are there many chain restaurants and stores, or are there family-owned businesses as well? What can you learn about your community from the businesses and stores that have been successful?

What is a restaurant in your community that you enjoy. Why do you choose to go to that restaurant over the others in your area? What is the atmosphere of the restaurant and what kind of food is served? Does the food remind you of dishes that a family member cooks or is it very different from what you eat at home? Does the staff there know you or do you see your friends when you go?

Using Yelp (search “Restaurants” or “Take Out Dinner”) or your own observations, answer the following questions: What are the most popular restaurants and cuisines in your area? Do any of those restaurants reflect immigrant or migrant groups in your area? Do they reflect other community values or traditions?

Option 2: Reflect on Success

The featured article suggests that many Chinese immigrant parents who ran restaurants are proud that their children have found success in other fields. However, some children have decided to take over the family business and are trying new approaches to food and marketing. Do you connect more with one of these two ideas of success?

Mr. Sit said he was proud of his daughters’ work even though it means they would not take over the restaurant business: “I hoped they have a better life than me,” he said. “A good life. And they do.”

On the other hand, Mr. Tang chose to leave his career in finance and take over his family’s restaurant: “I had this unique opportunity to preserve something that was from old New York,” he said. “I still work extremely hard. But I also know how to use marketing tools, like the internet.”

Which path do you think is a more dominant or accepted idea of success: carrying on and further developing a family business or moving on to do different work? Mr. Tang’s parents were resistant when he chose to return to the family business and Mr. Sit seemed content that his daughters had chosen a different career path. What do you think? Is it a success or failure for someone to return to a family business?

What do your parents or family members expect of you? Do they expect you to have a certain education or career path? Is their idea of success similar or different from your own? Does it reflect their own life path or do they desire something different for you?