Part of our weekly series with The Nib
on inequity in the time of pandemic.

Billy Chiu, San Francisco, California
Interviewed April 16 and May 13, 2020

Billy standing next to his mom at the restaurant’s long counter, both of them packing up take-out orders. He is a young guy wearing a hoodie and baseball hat. Narration: Billy Chiu manages Grant Place Restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, which his mother, Elaine, opened in 1994.
Billy standing outside the restaurant on the street. We can see the restaurant’s colorful awning, which is decorated with hanging paper lanterns.  Billy: Early March, end of February, it was just dead. We weren't really getting that much dine in, which is rare. We were like, what is going on? People were avoiding Chinatown.
Billy and another coworker, standing at the counter folding giant piles of paper napkins. In the foreground is the restaurant phone—conspicuously not ringing.  Billy: Looking back, it probably had to do with the coronavirus. Our own president was calling it the Chinese virus. You're like, “Whoa, wait, what are they calling it?!” That was the troubling moment for me personally.
Chinatown business owners rally in a San Francisco square with signs saying “Chinatown is open for business” and “Time for Facts Not Fear.”   Billy: You can definitely see that that could be taken in the wrong way and incite hate or a reason to blame Chinese people for this virus.
Billy, wearing a mask, walking down the near-empty streets of Chinatown. He’s carrying a bag of food, doing a delivery.  Billy: It's hard enough to run a restaurant. The upsetting thing is this feeling of, like, being a potential target for violence or death. Billy:  I grew up in San Francisco. I don't think I've ever felt unsafe. But a lot of people are scared.
Billy chopping up green onions in the kitchen while another cook drains tasty-looking noodles. Billy’s mom is also there, wrapping wontons.  Billy: When I sit down and do the numbers it makes more sense to close. My family is working for free right now. We pay our employees, we pay our vendors. You gotta sell a lot of shrimp dumplings and noodles to pay for that.
Billy’s mom standing at the front door of the restaurant, looking out at the empty street. A sign on the front window says “TAKE OUT ONLY NO DINE IN” in English and Mandarin. [reference photo in folder]    Narration: Takeout orders and a federal small business loan are all that is holding the business together for now. Billy: It is really difficult to be just trying to sell food to survive. A restaurant is a living, breathing part of the community. It's more than just feeding people.
Billy sitting in front of a bowl of steaming soup at one of the empty tables, about to eat lunch.  Billy: That's the beautiful thing about food. Whoever racist comes to San Francisco- they can walk in the door and you can change their perception. That's what I hope for. I would love to change their mind.

Interview by Nathan Halverson illustrated by Thi Bui, script by Sarah Mirk and Amanda Pike.

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Nathan Halverson (he/him) is an Emmy Award-winning producer for Reveal, covering business and finance with a current emphasis on the global food system. Before joining Reveal, Halverson worked on projects for FRONTLINE, the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and PBS NewsHour. He was the principal reporter on Reveal's story about the Chinese government’s involvement in the takeover of America’s largest pork company, Smithfield Foods Inc. He was awarded a 2014 McGraw Fellowship by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and he received a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Minnesota. He has won a New York Times Chairman’s Award and has received reporting honors from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, California Newspaper Publishers Association, San Francisco Peninsula Press Club and Associated Press News Executives Council. Halverson is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Thi Bui

Thi Bui was born in Vietnam and came to the United States in 1978 as part of the "boat people" wave of refugees fleeing Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam War. Her debut graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts, 2017) has been selected for an American Book Award, a Common Book for UCLA and other colleges and universities, an all-city read by Seattle and San Francisco public libraries, a National Book Critics Circle finalist in autobiography, and an Eisner Award finalist in reality-based comics. It made over thirty best of 2017 book lists, including Bill Gates' top five picks. She illustrated the picture book, A Different Pond, written by the poet Bao Phi (Capstone, 2017), for which she won a Caldecott Honor. With her son, Hien, she co-illustrated the children’s book, Chicken of the Sea (McSweeney’s, 2019), written by Pulitzer winner Viet Thanh Nguyen and his son, Ellison. Her short comics can be found online at Reveal News, The Nib, PEN America, and BOOM California. She is currently researching and drawing a work of graphic nonfiction about immigrant detention and deportation, to be published by One World, Random House.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Amanda Pike (she/her) is the director of the TV and documentary department and executive producer of films and series at Reveal. Under her leadership, The Center for Investigative Reporting garnered its first Academy Award nomination and four national Emmys, among other accolades. She was the executive producer of the inaugural year of the Glassbreaker Films initiative, supporting women in documentary filmmaking and investigative journalism. She has spent the past two decades reporting and producing documentaries for PBS, CBS, ABC, National Geographic, A&E, Lifetime and The Learning Channel, among others. Subjects have ranged from militia members in Utah to young entrepreneurs in Egypt and genocide perpetrators in Cambodia. Pike also has dabbled in fiction filmmaking, producing the short film “On the Assassination of the President,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. She is a graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.