-Running a restaurant, there's so many things

you need to consider and be concerned about and first

and foremost you need it to be,

you know, a profitable enterprise

to get income to the team members

and pay the rent and keep it rolling.

All the assumptions are out the window now.

-When the lock down happened, you know,

we had to furlough so many of our staff.

We weren't just opening a restaurant just for us.

We knew that there was a bigger team now that needed income

and needed to get back to some sort of normalcy.

-I worry about the small businesses

that are struggling to stay open and to hold on and to continue

and be able to survive in this pandemic moving forward.

-Tiger is a brand new East Asian restaurant at the border of Soho

in Chinatown in New York City.

We just opened in the middle of September,

so smack bang in the center of the COVID mess here in New York.

Jeff and I started working together about a decade ago.

We went to business together for the first time in 2015

to develop a -- a venue restaurant in Chinatown

called Chinese Tuxedo.

But probably 2018 we had a concept

for Southeast Asian restaurant, the Tyger.

This we wanted it to really take its cues from the marriage

of kind of a New York City diner dynamism.

Everything from the hawker markets of East Asia

and the like.

We took possession of this space on the 1st of November 2019,

so about four months before the shut down.

Prior to the shut down we had a pretty clear identity

in our mind and in the nature

of the restaurant that we wanted the Tyger to be.

-We put our heart and soul into it.

We -- we dreamed about it

every day what the venue going to looks like.

We almost more than halfway with construction,

we go into the details and everything then suddenly

COVID shut down the -- our construction.

-The entire project had to be re-conceived.

-Where does this one go?

-We always knew that we were going to open the venue.

Department the project was not on the table.

It wasn't an option available to us.

A couple of reasons.

One, as small business operators we couldn't really afford to

but also we were so committed and invested in this project

and then it became a bit of a race against time.

-The...[ speaks indistinctly ] has all different kinds

of regulation come up.

Nobody sure what's going on, whether or not the outdoor

going to be open, indoor going to be open.

We had no idea so, we --

-And they were changing in real time.

-Yeah, that's right.

-We would be running on one set of assumptions,

one set of advice and you know, it would turn on a dime.

Indoor dining presently,

there isn't really a sustainable road map

running just indoor dining

based on the 25% capacity limitation.

We've no advice relating to an extension on that

and so we knew Chinese Tuxedo was just an indefinite closure.

Our two primary concerns are one

that we keep the businesses afloat.

Nobody's expecting to make any money this year or next.

We just want to keep our venues

and ensure our team members are safe.

-If it wasn't for the pandemic, we would have employed

over 150 people

or maybe even closer to 200 people

between the two venues.

That's 200 people's livelihoods.

-There is no playbook for this.

This is a new business so we haven't been eligible

for any of the supports at the federal level,

so they're basically saying, you're shit out of luck,

you're on your own and all those decisions we had to make,

there was the very simple question of, would anybody come?

-My name's Paul Donnelly.

I'm the Executive Chef of the Tyger and Chinese Tuxedo.

I'm going to make an non-pan fried chicken.

So it's kind of like our interpretation of fried chicken,

you know, putting a little bit of an Asian flare on it.

I'm a huge fan of fried chicken, who's not?

Would you say so Daniel, the fried chicken

like over takes the whole kitchen doesn't it?

-Oh by far, number one seller.

-Sometimes we get to the stage on a Friday or a Saturday night

and Daniel will be on the pass and the team will be over here

and be like, they'll be saying

Chef, how many -- how many fried chickens

and it's like one, seven, 13.

Guys, we've got 19 fried chickens on order.

But we ended up having this fantastic product,

super juicy, marinated in buttermilk,

lots of herbs and spices

and we serve it with the most beautiful light

and refreshing and lime and white pepper dressing

which is kind of inspired by Cambodian style fried chicken.

Opening a restaurant in any climate

whether there's a, you know, medical pandemic

or there's always going to be a challenge.

But, you know, we knew what we had to do

and we knew that there was a bigger team

now that needed income and also from our suppliers,

like, without a restaurant,

you know, what's the butcher going to do

and then what's the farmer going to do, you know?

And you could talk about it throughout

the whole of a business

and it still is a challenging time.

You know, it's the positive attitudes from the team

every day, front of house,

back of house keep each other going.

We can't take our foot off the gas.

There are other places out there that are closing down

and we don't want that to be us.

-I see all the kitchen team say, they're wearing a mask,

even doing the cookings and everything.

It's so tough for them, you know,

'cause in the kitchen you cooking so hot,

you still are wearing a mask.

-I'll just kick off here start with a couple of notes.

And remember, our dining room includes the crosswalk,

[ speaks indistinctly ], the corner right the way around,

[ speaks indistinctly ]

Everything looks fantastic tonight.

Let's just be really thoughtful of our personal

and venue presentation.

We had one huge advantage you typically don't have opening

a new venue which was almost our entire opening team

we'd worked with at Chinese Tuxedo.

-They understand the culture,

they understand our service style

making the hard decisions

and to stay open and to open the restaurant,

especially a new restaurant in a pandemic.

Some of it was also for them as well.

There's something you can do to continue to have a job

so that, you know, they can keep on living

and have this positive environment to go to at work.

It means everything.

-I actually look forward to coming into work, genuinely.

Like, the team are really close.

I don't think it's definitely

harder to give as good a service now than before

because sometimes it looks a little bit like

you're lacking, pouring the water for people.

Now we just pop the water down on the table

and people pour it themselves.

I know a lot of guests that come back here,

all our regulars and it's really hard not to go

and I'm very friendly and going in for a big hug

and, you know, all those things that you used to do.

I think it's been a really tough kind of transition.

It's freeze -- it's going to be freezing tonight.

We wrap up warm and we keep -- we keep it lighthearted

and you know, every table that sits down,

it's kind of like, you know,

you make a joke out of it and you -- you make it fun

because everyone's in the same boat.

It's been such a hard year

and I think people have just, like, needed

something to look forward to, somewhere special to,

to go to to celebrate whatever they're doing.

But we have a lot of people that have come in

for like their late birthdays that they never got to celebrate

and all in all, like, people are really happy

and they're very thankful.

The most rewarding part of this job

is honestly just like being a part of a restaurant

that is open mid-pandemic.

-Here at Tyger, we have a broad scope of influence

but the theme that runs through it

is those big bright bold flavors that are so prevalent

through Southeast Asia and that we love to eat.


-It's the -- the slow-cooked short rib curry.

So it's a red curry,

lots of herbs and spices in there.

The short rib in there is kind of like the hero of the dish.

So we actually cook that overnight.

COVID affected meat production

all over the country for a period of time,

whether it be slaughter houses weren't working

or just not being able to get the quantities that we needed.

I mean, this is one of our most popular dishes

and we're going through a lot of this a week.

Things did stabilize but it was a very challenging time

for everyone in the industry, you know?

I got these, look, potato buns,

so they're kind of like that,

you know that pull apart style, very soft, fluffy in the center.

Perfect for a curry.

-New York City dining is so competitive.

There are so many exceptional restaurants

which means when you're opening a new venue

it's easy to get, like, intimidated

or the detail that you feel you need to execute.

In truth, in some ways we weren't ready.

We got custom crockery made in Australia.

When they sent the crockery out, customs on the West Coast

was a basket case like everything else in this country

and so our plates were stuck in customs

for an extra 60 days.

So we opened without our plate ware.

We shipped plates over from Chinese Tuxedo

and how do we make that experience special?

So it meant getting more outdoor furniture

and making it nicely finished.

All the stuff costs money as well.


-And so, every decision was a difficult judgment.

You might notice we don't have all our art up on the walls yet,

'cause we spent the art budget on the outdoor pods.

We didn't have the finishing touches but it didn't matter.

At the end of the day, the food and the service culture

is what people wanted and coveted.

-So it's like my -- my dad told me,

'cause he -- he went through the World War II.

We had a grocery store.

My dad and my grandfather had to rebuild that,

destroyed by the World War II, two times.

They rebuilt the life back to normal again and again.

We're going to go through it

and then we're going to be stronger in our business.

As stronger, everybody, we're all be back to the normal life.

You have to keep positive

and also flexibility that anything that you do.

-And a couple of times we've just had to laugh.

There's a few things where you just go, pfft, what next?

And if you don't laugh, you'd cry.

-Yeah. -And so, laugh.