Local Asian American business owners ask groups to call their own
ABEC – as the new council will be known – grew out of the Boston Foundation Asian Community Fund, which provides the seed capital for its launch. The goal, said fund manager Danielle Kim, is for the council to become a stand-alone nonprofit. within three to five years.
Kim met with executives from BECMA and Amplify Latinx for advice on how to implement ABEC. While there are other organizations that support the local Asian American community, Kim believes ABEC is the first dedicated to advancing a range of Asian-owned businesses, from access to capital to public procurement opportunities.
“When we talk about business capital, it has to include the Asian community as well,” Kim said. “We know Asian business owners have seen such a disproportionate impact since the pandemic; all in terms of economic loss for ongoing racism and harassment.
Investigation found that 16% of Asian-owned small businesses in the United States suffered a revenue decline of 75% or more in 2020 compared to with 2019 – a higher proportion than black, Latino or white owned businesses. This is on top of a national increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, with many of these incidents occurring at Asian-owned businesses.
Kim said other business groups of color welcomed ABEC, saying, “We were waiting for there to be an Asian counterpart at the table with us.”
ABEC’s vision will be completed by Qingjian “QJ” Shi, who has been hired as director and will begin this week.
Shi has spent much of her career in the nonprofit space, most recently as chief operating officer of Tech Goes Home, a Boston organization that bridges the digital divide. Previously, she served as Executive Director of English At Large, which provides free English lessons to immigrants and refugees, and Director of Education and Outreach at the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence.
For Shi, ABEC’s mission is personal. His parents briefly owned a Chinese restaurant in Chicopee in the 1990s, after arriving in the United States penniless and speaking no English. Shi recalled how her mother felt exploited working in the restaurant industry, so she decided to open her own restaurant, only to run into racism and other obstacles.
“At one point their storefront was covered in racist graffiti. They didn’t know where to turn to ask for support, resources and capital to maintain their business,” Shi said. “Their history still reflects the anti-Asian racism that Asian American businesses face today.”
This is where she hopes ABEC will step in, helping immigrant owners navigate the system to get the technical support they need, as well as increasing the visibility of Asian-owned businesses.
At the same time, Shi believes there is an opportunity for collaboration between BIPOC communities.
“There is a lot more synergy that can be generated around building equitable and inclusive economies to empower businesses of color,” she added.
With the launch of ABEC, Asian restaurateurs are also getting a boost.
In 2019, a group of Asian restaurateurs came together to form the Massachusetts Asian Restaurant Association, MA-ARA. Soon after, they decided they didn’t want to go it alone. Then the pandemic hit.
What has emerged now is a new partnership with the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. Asian restaurateurs have not traditionally joined the MRA, but now, if they join MA-ARA (pronounced “mara”), they have dual membership, including access to all MRA benefits and resources .
The groups are also finding other ways to collaborate, such as working together to provide translations into different languages of materials related to food safety training and workforce development, among other topics, according to Steve Clark. , COO of MRA.
Andy Kuang, co-founder and co-chairman of MA-ARA, said Asian restaurants are looking for ways to elevate their brand, navigate regulations and pool their collective buying power because many use the same ingredients.
“We can do a better deal,” said Kuang, who has run restaurants for 30 years and currently owns Samurai Express in the back bay.
Bobby Wong, the other co-chairman, said Asian restaurateurs have traditionally not had the time – or felt the need – to be part of a trade group, but he thinks times are different now.
He and Kuang have scoured the state meeting with restaurant groups and have recruited nearly 50 members so far. They estimate that there are at least a few hundred, possibly close to 1,000, Asian restaurateurs in Massachusetts.
“I have a lot of uncles and aunts who had restaurants, and they put their heads down and they just worked hard, very hard and they made it that way,” said Wong, whose family owns the Kowloon restaurant in Saugus since 1950. “But now I can see a generation, as things go, where it’s a benefit to be able to organize and have a voice together.”
These are vulnerable times for Asian Americans, and they are finding their voice at a time when they most need to be heard.
Shirley Leung is a business columnist. She can be contacted at [email protected]