Wuhan's unseen heroes

Coronavirus: Making meals for hospital workers

Restaurant owner Fang Zhongqin (right) with the lunch boxes his kitchen has been preparing for medical workers that are delivered to hospitals in Wuhan every day since the start of the outbreak. Mr Fang at his eatery, Chao Yue Xiang Seafood Restauran
Restaurant owner Fang Zhongqin (right) with the lunch boxes his kitchen has been preparing for medical workers that are delivered to hospitals in Wuhan every day since the start of the outbreak. PHOTO: COURTESY OF FANG ZHONGQIN
Restaurant owner Fang Zhongqin (right) with the lunch boxes his kitchen has been preparing for medical workers that are delivered to hospitals in Wuhan every day since the start of the outbreak. Mr Fang at his eatery, Chao Yue Xiang Seafood Restauran
Mr Fang at his eatery, Chao Yue Xiang Seafood Restaurant. When the lockdown in Wuhan on Jan 23 forced him to shut his two eateries, he figured he would use up his food stock by having his kitchen produce meals for hospital workers.PHOTO: COURTESY OF FANG ZHONGQIN

Cantonese restaurant owner Fang Zhongqin never thought life in the new year would be about dishing out more than 1,000 lunch boxes to feed hungry doctors and nurses in hospitals around Wuhan every day.

When the city lockdown on Jan 23 forced him to shut his two eateries, he figured he would use up his food stock by having his kitchen produce meals for hospital workers.

That endeavour grew as more requests came in and from more hospitals - and so, there was no turning off the stoves.

From an initial 300 meals a day, his chefs at Chao Yue Xiang Seafood Restaurant are whipping up as many as 1,300 lunches and dinners daily now, and they are delivered to medical workers by volunteer drivers.

"We've had Sars before and we know this sort of epidemic is not resolved in just days," says the 36-year-old from Shantou in the southern province of Guangdong.

"The restaurant will surely suffer a big loss."

Mr Fang estimates the daily free meals cost him more than 10,000 yuan (S$2,000) a day, about a quarter of his daily takings during the typically busy Chinese New Year period.

But the business community has chipped in with funds to help his cause. Other restaurateurs, food suppliers and caterers have also started a "Wuhan F&B Support Group" on WeChat, which now numbers more than 200 members.

The food and beverage industry will be the hardest-hit in this epidemic, says Mr Fang, who came to Wuhan in 2006 to work as a chef and started his business in 2009.

"At the earliest, we can open for business again in the middle of March, but even then, recovery will be a big test for us," says Mr Fang, whose wife and eight-year-old daughter are in Zhanjiang in southwestern Guangdong.

 
 

Medical workers often text him to thank him for his generosity.

"Even though it is a small effort, you feel in your heart that you've done the right thing."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 16, 2020, with the headline 'Making meals for hospital workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe