San Francisco’s Chinatown’s Far East Cafe to Shut Down After Nearly 100 Years

2 mins read

One of the oldest restaurants in San Francisco Chinatown, Far East Cafe, will permanently close its doors to the public by the end of the month amid the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the area.

A historic restaurant

The owner of the establishment, Bill Lee, said that the century-old restaurant could not survive on takeout alone. The restaurant was barely hanging on when outdoor dining was still allowed. Lee could not afford to keep the restaurant running while there was no clear sign of an end of the pandemic.

Far East Cafe was first opened in 1920 and was one of the last two remaining banquets in Chinatown. It was a popular destination when celebrating the Lunar New Year, fundraiser charities, and grand weddings.

Lee is one of three owners of the Far East Cafe that showcased beautiful designs with large hanging lanterns and private dining booths with wood separators. The two-story restaurant had 15,000 square-foot of space but stayed relatively unchanged since the 1930s, serving mainly Cantonese and American Chinese dishes.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the Far East Cafe to stop holding massive events and refuse to serve tourists due to health risks.

San Francisco’s Chinatown was home to five banquet restaurants for several decades, which have since shut down and turned into higher-end establishments. Four Seas was replaced by Mister Jiu’s, China Live and Eight Tables rose up from where Gold Mountain closed down, and Boon’s Empress, which was owned by the former executive chef of glitzy international chain Hakkasan, is planning to set up in the space of former Empress of China once official allow indoor dining.

Community leaders in Chinatown shared their concerns about the removal of the iconic banquet restaurants. They argued people needed more places that had bigger rooms to accommodate large gatherings but also served affordable meals, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Far East Cafe is scheduled to officially shut down on December 31, leaving only New Asia, which has been operating since 1987, the only establishment left in the area, and is currently serving customers as a grocery store amid the pandemic.

Danielle Joyce Ong

Danielle is a local journalist with a passion for exploring stories related to crime and politics. When Danielle isn't busy writing or reading, she is usually exploring the great outdoors and all the hiking trails in the Bay.