The Joys and Responsibilities of Being a Restaurant Regular

Without help from the federal government, restaurants rely on their community for help. We cannot let them down.

Di Di Dumpling located on E 24th and Lexington. During the COVID-19 epidemic, restaurants have become more reliant on their regular customers for survival. (Staff Photo by Leo Sheingate)

A little nameless shack just beyond the train tracks that cut through my mother’s hometown in Feng Yuan sells some of the best potstickers I’ve had in my 21-year-long, dumpling-filled life. For years, I was convinced that I could only get that experience in Taiwan. That was until two years ago, when I moved into Gramercy Green my sophomore year and found Di Di Dumplings.

Like the shack in Feng Yuan, Di Di specializes in Taiwanese-style potstickers — long, rectangular, filled with pork, chicken or vegetables, and fried in rows. Since my first bite and subsequent Ratatouille-flashback-into-the-past moment, I have been a loyal convert. Who’s that guy sitting in Vanessa’s Dumplings? Certainly not me.

They were there for me when I started wearing nail polish, and the cashier said, “I like your nail polish.” They were also with me several weeks later when I took the nail polish off, and the cashier said, “Where did your nail polish go?”

Just before COVID-19 brought about an early and abrupt end to last semester, I ate at Di Di’s one more time before returning to my hometown of Atlanta, not knowing if the restaurant would still be there when I came back. Despite the odds, Di Di was still standing when I got back.

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When my mother dropped me off for quarantine, she picked up takeout at Di Di’s. As my mother picked up the food, she mentioned in passing that this was her son’s favorite restaurant, to which the cashier asked to see a picture. When my mom showed her my picture, the cashier said, “Oh, that’s our most loyal customer.”

Am I bragging about finally becoming a regular at a restaurant in New York? Yes, a little bit. However, the title of “regular” puts you in the community. As part of the community, it becomes something of a responsibility to support it in any way you can in the face of a massive wave of restaurant shutdowns.

The New York State Restaurant Association projects that 11% of the state’s restaurants, approximately 5,800, have permanently closed their doors. According to an NYC Hospitality Alliance survey, 37% of restaurants couldn’t pay their rent in July and 83% only paid partial rent. Without assistance, New York will see even more restaurant closures.

“Support local businesses” is not a unique opinion. However, it’s one that needs to be underlined over and over again. The food in New York gives the city its unique identity scarcely found elsewhere.

New York is not dead, as some headlines and social media posts might have you believe. It’s a place where you can still revisit your childhood memories in Taiwan while standing on 24th and Lexington. However, these moments and experiences are dwindling every day. Without help from the federal government to bail small businesses out, it falls on us regulars and aspiring regulars to help.

Email Paul Kim at [email protected]

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