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Surviving the Shutdown: Takeout dumplings and that infrared thermometer at Sichuan Impression

A takeout bag at Alhambra's Sichuan Impression is sealed and reusable by customers.
(Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing shutdown have left many restaurants uncertain about their future. As smaller, less-heralded restaurants across the city grapple with new realities, we asked them to share their stories.

When Sichuan Impression opened in 2014, you could spot the place from a distance by the line that stretched down Valley Boulevard in Alhambra.

There are no lines anymore, and the front door has been locked for weeks, closed by the coronavirus outbreak. But turn the corner these days, and the side door to the restaurant is still open for business, a table blocking the entrance, a woman in a mask managing takeout orders.

Customers wait for their takeout orders at Sichuan Impression in Alhambra. All staff have been wearing masks since January.
(Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

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Owners Kelly Xiao and Lynn Liu were ahead of the curve in implementing safety measures, taking diners’ temperatures with an infrared thermometer at their three locations — Alhambra, Tustin and West L.A. — in late January, when they also started delivery service. The thermometer is still on the table by the door, used on anyone who needs to come inside. The staff all wear masks and gloves, and the pick-up and delivery bags have been redesigned for the crisis, closed with plastic zip ties and reusable by customers.

“We just need to keep doing what we’re doing and paying attention to the safety of our employees,” said Xiao on Friday, as customers walked up to the door to pick up bags of the toothpick lamb, bobo chicken, water-boiled fish and mapo tofu that made the restaurant such a destination.

To-go orders are available at all three restaurants: Pick-up orders receive a 5% discount; you can call first and get your food brought to your car. Delivery is free within a 5-mile radius or available through Postmates.

A takeout order of boiled fish with rattan pepper and dumplings from Sichuan Impression in Alhambra.
(Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

The Alhambra and Tustin locations also take orders through WeChat, where the menu includes new specials. Xiao says the app is mostly used by Chinese customers (the menu is in both English and Mandarin), with dishes including tofu with braised beef, a spectacular marinated duck and, for kids, chicken broth with mushrooms and rice. Liu and her mother are cooking the dishes, which is why they’re limited right now. “After the coronavirus, we’ll put them on the menu.”

Although business has dropped 60% or 70%, things are “not that bad,” Xiao said.

Two orders of boiled fish in chili sauce, brought home from Sichuan Impression.
Two orders of boiled fish in chili sauce, brought home from Sichuan Impression.
(Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

They’d been wanting to add to-go service before the crisis and had ordered the new bags — modeled on Lululemon bags Xiao had noticed at her gym — from China at the end of last year.

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Of the 14 original employees at the Alhambra location, Xiao says that five have left voluntarily, because their families didn’t want them to keep working. Xiao, who has a 5-year-old at home, said all staff are disinfected before entering the restaurant. When I asked her if any of her staff had tested positive, she said no.

Xiao said she and her staff are committed to staying open and cooking Sichuan dishes — the comfort food of choice for many of us — for the duration of the crisis, making safety their first priority.

1900 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 283-4622, sichuanimpressions.com


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