Tristan Sapp on How Coronavirus is Hurting F&B in the Greater Bay Area

By Matthew Bossons, February 8, 2020

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This article is a part of our Appetite for Destruction feature, a series of interviews conducted by That’s staff to examine the impact of the novel coronavirus on China’s food and beverage industry. For more articles from this series, click here.

Tristan Sapp – Shenzhen/Guangzhou

Proprietor at Tristan’s CalMex Shenzhen/Guangzhou

Tristan Sapp has lived in Guangzhou for six years, during which time he took his love for tacos and Cal-Mex food from a hobby to a regular pop-up concept and, eventually, two brick-and-mortar restaurants in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Here, Sapp shares his thoughts on the impact the novel coronavirus is having on the F&B scene in the Greater Bay Area (GBA):

How has the novel coronavirus epidemic impacted your business?
To minimize the risk of spreading the illness and minimize risk to our customers and staff, we have opted to only do delivery and takeout until further notice. Because we operate as a restaurant and bar, beverage sales are a large part of our income and we are seeing that slashed as we have to rely on delivery. Most people don’t want to order four or five beers per person to their house.

What measures has your business taken to mitigate the damage caused by the prolonged CNY holiday and the ongoing coronavirus outbreak?
In a way, if the virus had to happen, I suppose this is as good a time as any. Doing business in China is unique, as you have a period of a couple weeks every year where the whole country basically shuts down. Most businesses that have been around awhile prepare for this; you plan on the first quarter of every year being slim. Thankfully, having the crisis hit at this time means you were already geared up for a quiet spell.

Have you experienced similar challenges previously, while working in the F&B business in the GBA?
Yes, somewhat. A couple of years ago in Guangzhou, there was the whole crackdown on second floors and nightlife in general, which disproportionately affected expat-owned and -frequented bars. Frequent, unannounced inspections and visa checks kept a lot of people away, and there was a lot of fear that – at any moment – you could be told to cease operations. These scares and clampdowns tend to come in waves, but are – for better or worse – part of doing business in Guangzhou, so you just have to prepare.

How long do you think it will take the F&B industry in South China to recover?
I think that there will be a period of adjustment, as people get back to their routines, industries try to make up for lost time and revenue and people get back out into the world with a heightened awareness of hygiene and foodborne illness. I figure that it will probably take at least a month after the virus is declared ‘defeated,’ but admittedly, that may be somewhat optimistic.

Do you think that the outbreak, containment measures and prolonged holiday will result in lasting damage to the F&B scene in the GBA?
Unfortunately, I do expect some long-term damage the longer that it drags on. The F&B business often seems glamorous and profitable to those outside looking in and sometimes that’s the case, but it’s also a high-stress, high-turnover industry that operates on surprisingly slim margins. Pretty much everyone was blindsided by this.

Places that have opened recently, had gone through large staff or management changes or had just paid for upgrades before this all happened will be particularly vulnerable. Some suppliers that deal in specialized and niche goods may have to suspend operations, as well. If the economy takes a dip because of an extended period of people not working, that will only exacerbate things.

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

For regular updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak in China, click here. For more articles in our Appetite for Destruction series, click here.

[Cover image via Tristan Sapp]

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