A Chinatown/LES local is claiming that the community board discriminates against Chinese restaurants when approving liquor licenses — saying that the board went easier on a restaurant from a notorious bar owner than they did on a restaurant from the family of a Chinese restaurant legend.
Karlin Chan, a member of Manhattan Community Board 3, argues in an editorial today in Bowery Boogie that the board’s behavior in the past suggests there is a double standard for liquor license approvals.
He compared the board’s 2015 denial of a full liquor license to Hwa Yuan, located at 42 East Broadway, to the way the board treated MJK Foods, a proposed Japanese small plates restaurant at 32 Mulberry Street with an omakase menu and potential for a dance floor.
MJK Foods comes from Jacob Smith, Kenneth Cohen, Kazuo Yoshida, and former Happy Ending partner Max Levai, the now closed bar that at one time received more complaints than any bar in the 5th Precinct.
Locals, including Chan, showed up at last month’s meeting to protest the liquor license. Besides Levai’s history, MJK Foods is taking over a space that used to house LeBaron, a bar that was seized by the Marshal in 2015 and had its liquor license taken away due to alleged underage drinking. Still, the board approved it for a liquor license.
Meanwhile, Hwa Yuan — a resurrection of the 1968 restaurant that closed in this location, debuting next month — only got a beer and wine license. The board claimed that the operators did not have enough experience, a point that perturbed Chan. The new Hwa Yuan comes from James Tang, the son of Chen Lieh Tang — Shorty Tang — who Sam Sifton wrote “cooked the best cold sesame noodles Manhattan ever tasted” for the Times. The family opened Shorty Tang Noodle Shop in Chelsea back in April.
Chan writes in the editorial: “Is there a double standard when it comes to Chinese applicants? Are they subject to a different set of rules and scrutiny?” He continues, arguing that gentrification has pushed Chinese-owned mom-and-pop businesses toward less-trafficked areas of the neighborhood, and the community board isn’t helping them thrive. “One would think the local community board would have the area’s economic health in mind; however, this example shows otherwise,” he writes.
The area around MJK Foods has been a NIMBY target recently. Residents in the area call it Hell Square, where nightlife is “apparently causing harmful effects to the neighborhood,” including more crime and noise as well as increased rents.