The Lower East Side location of the restaurant formerly known as Mission Chinese, famous for its face numbing and tongue stinging fried chicken wings, will permanently shutter at the end of September. Owner Danny Bowien announced the closure of Mission in a post to Instagram on Thursday afternoon, citing the ongoing hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic on the city’s hospitality industry.
“We have had to fight to save our businesses and jobs while making the case for our very existence,” Bowien wrote in the post. “We all desperately want restaurants to open — to really open — but we cannot insist on this out of obligation, without regard to the health of our customers and our employees.”
The East Broadway restaurant’s last day of service on the Lower East Side is Wednesday, September 30. The Bushwick location of Mission, located at 599 Johnson Avenue, between Gardner and Scott Avenues, will remain open as it shifts its focus towards “take out, pre-packaged meals and new models of distribution,” according to Bowien.
By some estimates, anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 restaurants may have already closed in New York City due to the pandemic, with many citing the fixed cost of rent and the uncertainty of a full return to indoor dining.
Mission, for its part, has faced other obstacles, as well. Over the last three years, the restaurant helmed by Bowien has contended with allegations of racial discrimination against its managers. In February 2017, four former employees sued the restaurant, alleging that black staffers were treated badly and that management retaliated against employees who spoke up about discriminatory behavior and poor working conditions. The suit was ultimately settled, but its fallout could still be felt at the restaurant as recently as this summer.
Bowien was born in Korea and raised in Oklahoma by adoptive parents. He opened Mission Chinese Food with restaurateurs Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint in San Francisco in 2010. Two years later, he brought the concept to New York, operating his East Coast outlet in a ramshackle space that drew two hour waits, a restaurant industry-heavy crowd, free beer from a self-serve keg (for a time), and the ire of health inspectors, who shut down the operation amid a rodent infestation.
The larger, fancier East Broadway location opened in late 2014. Bowien’s bi-level restaurant felt like a simultaneous ode to posh Chinese banquet halls, nearby art galleries, and trendy brick oven pizzerias. As was always the case, Mission’s Asian-tinged global menu was loud, electric, and eclectic. There were rice cakes with thrice-cooked bacon and tofu skin, fresh-baked naan, verdant matcha noodles, tasting menus, mapo tofu laced with so many Sichuan peppercorns it could numb one’s throat for tonsil surgery, caviar, large format uni, smoked prime rib, Filipino-style stuffed chicken by then executive chef Angela Dimayuga, and pepperoni pizza made with Tartine sourdough starter. It was a kaleidoscopic vision of a restaurant.
Mission Chinese might have been most famous for its signature dishes like the fried chicken wings, but its culinary significance derived from a constantly changing menu that showed that the traditional and the modern, the rustic and the refined, the global and the regional could all coexist in a single dining room.
The Manhattan location, where the events of the lawsuit allegedly transpired, remains temporarily open for service. “Though social gatherings of this magnitude can’t happen in our dining room right now, we hope you join us for take out in the next couple of weeks as we celebrate the future evolution of Mission and the end of this physical location,” Bowien shared in the announcement.