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Junzi Kitchen Down to One NYC Location as Team Plots Long Island Expansion

Lucas Sin and Yong Zhao are taking their Chinese American restaurant chain Nice Day to the suburbs

Several boxes of food lined up on a table with one pair of hands moving chopsticks over a box
Chinese American takeout dishes at Nice Day.
Nice Day

Nice Day, a Chinese American pop-up from the Junzi Kitchen team, is out at 170 Bleecker Street, at Sullivan Street. The Greenwich Village restaurant, which started as a location of the fast-growing Chinese restaurant chain Junzi Kitchen, closed its doors on February 28 due to the high cost of rent, owner Yong Zhao and chef Lucas Sin confirmed to Eater.

The restaurateurs attributed the closure to high rent prices in Manhattan, which they say were unsustainable following a drop-off in foot traffic from office workers and tourists during the pandemic. It’s the latest in a string of unannounced closures from Sin and Zhao: In early 2021, the duo closed the downtown Manhattan outpost of Junzi Kitchen, which operated out of a ghost kitchen at 30 Vandam Street, followed by a storefront in Midtown, near Bryant Park, last fall.

Only Junzi Kitchen’s original location in New Haven, Connecticut, and a second restaurant in Morningside Heights, at Columbia University, remain.

According to Zhao, the team is scaling back its presence in Manhattan in preparation for larger expansion plans at Nice Day. The restaurateurs originally intended to establish the Chinese American restaurant chain in New York City, before expanding to the suburbs, but a year of pandemic flipped the order of operations on its head. “We had to shift from the high-rent, high-population density market to low-density suburbs,” Zhao says.

In a matter of weeks, the restaurateurs will open their first location of Nice Day outside of New York City, a storefront at 441 Walt Whitman Road in Melville, Long Island. They’re starting with a small chain of restaurants — as many as 20, they say — on the eastern island, with plans to return to New York City down the line.

The restaurateurs started Junzi Kitchen in 2015 with a single restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut, before following up with four locations in Manhattan at its height. The small chain quickly established itself as one of the city’s most popular fast-casual hangouts with its sesame noodle and braised pork lunch bowls, and in 2019, Zhao vowed to open upwards of 20 locations in New York City. Those plans have been put on hold for now, he says.

Nice Day followed in 2021 as a way to address the country’s surge in Chinese restaurant closings during the pandemic. First-generation Chinese owners are closing their restaurants en masse without anyone to take them over, according to Zhao, as their children often pursue other fields. Nice Day looks to pick up those leases and open Chinese American restaurants in their place, serving modern versions of takeout staples like General Tso’s chicken and beef with broccoli.