BOSTON (CBS) – On a walk down Chinatown’s Beach Street, smiling eyes quickly find Jackie Church.
“I’m craving your fish filet,” Church says enthusiastically. “I’ll be back soon,” she tells Peter Wang, owner of the Taiwan Café – a mainstay in the neighborhood known for its award-winning dumplings.
As the owner and operator of Boston Chinatown Tours, Church knows the neighborhood like the back of her hand. Wang recently told Church that a PPP loan was critical in keeping his business open, but revenue is down by more than half. Still, he refuses to give up on the restaurant. And that’s the story across this historic enclave, where the business owners who weathered the pandemic are fighting to thrive.
When we first visited in March, some businesses were closing for good, and the neighborhood was a ghost town. But with vaccines and dropping COVID-19 numbers things are starting to turn around.
Beneath its iconic gateway, signs of a spirited culture are everywhere. The old timers still play their cards along Mary Soo Hoo Park, lively lanterns adorn the sky and new store fronts are breathing new life into the neighborhood.
“This is a brand-new place the noodle place and Waku Waku are two of our newest restaurants,” Church said. “And it kind of gives me goosebumps talking about it because we were in such a sad state.”
At Waku Waku, a 16-hour broth is the foundation of a fresh take on a revamped ramen experience. That’s driving in students after school and young professionals after dark.
“We follow the authentic soup, and we have our little way of twisting it playing around and make it more fun and flavorful,” said Waku Waku General Manager Dixon Leung. “When people walk in, they’re like ‘wow this is like Vegas, like a mini-Vegas’.”
A short walk from Waku Waku is Shojo, an out of the ordinary retreat on Tyler Street with graffiti on the walls, the largest selection of Japanese whiskey in Massachusetts and comfort foods, Asian style.
“Boston Magazine has awarded us with Boston’s 2021 best Poutine. It is a Canadian dish, but we put our spin on it,” said Shojo owner Brian Moy.
Shojo is so popular it’s expanding. For Moy, who grew up in his dad’s restaurant The China Pearl, preserving his heritage is important. He says working with the city to bring more art and programs to the neighborhood, and diners continuing to seek the cuisine, is at the heart of Chinatown’s longevity.
“We encourage them to keep on supporting Chinatown. It’s one of the ethnic neighborhoods in Boston where we can continue to work together and [have it] become a positive,” Moy said.
The city of Boston is also ramping up efforts to drive up foot traffic at local shops. They recently launched an app known a B Local, which rewards people who shop in Boston with points that can be redeemed. So far, city officials say the app has granted over $97,000.