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Struggling Chinatown businesses getting boost from food bloggers

Some businesses like Shabu House have seen business drop as much as 90 percent over fear of the coronavirus.

HOUSTON, Texas — The threat of the coronavirus is at the forefront of many since fake stories have been shared about the disease in areas of southwest Houston.

The fear of catching the disease is causing some to avoid Asian communities like Chinatown.

Businesses are reporting a sharp drop in customers over the last few weeks.

On any given Friday night places like Shabu House would be packed -- so much so that they would use a waiting list. 

But amid the coronavirus scares in Chinatown, the waiting list is no more. 

But food journalist Mai Pham is hoping to bring customers back to Chinatown restaurants with her popular Instagram account @femme_foodie

“The Asian community, Chinatown slash Asia-town is just one of the big shining stars of our food scene,” Pham said.

She stopped by Shabu House which focuses on Asian comfort food.

Pham said many restaurants in the area in jeopardy of going out of business over fear of the coronavirus.

She said, “If it continues like this we’re not going to have our favorite restaurants anymore. These places are really maybe a week or a couple weeks from going belly up.”

Debbie Chen, co-owner of Shabu House, said since rumors about the virus started spreading her business has been hurting.

“We’ve been down as low as more than 90 percent,” Chen said. “On average it’s anywhere between 50 to 70 percent down depending on the day.”

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The Houston Asian Chamber of Commerce said across Chinatown businesses are seeing the same thing even though there are no reported cases of coronavirus in the region.

Chen is doing what she can to avoid having to cut back on hours or let people go.

“I’m basically taking money out of my own pocket to make sure my employees, my staff can pay their bills,” Chen said.

It’s a measure not all restaurants can afford.

Pham hopes by promoting Chinatown businesses people will see the truth.

“Not only is there misinformation but there’s ignorance, just plain ignorance, lack of understanding of what the coronavirus is, how you catch it, how you protect yourself from it,” Pham said.

In addition, businesses like Axelrad are incentivizing customers to support Chinatown businesses. In exchange, Axelrad will give people a free beer with proof of purchase from a business there.

Houston's Chamber of Commerce is hopeful customers will come back as more and more people continue to show that it’s business as usual out here.