When Your Restaurant’s Star Dish Is Blamed for Spreading Coronavirus

HONG KONG — What began as a classic Lunar New Year celebration ended with nearly a dozen members of a family sickened and a city of 7 million on edge.

Nineteen members of an extended family gathered in January for hot pot — a traditional Chinese meal in which diners dip raw meat, seafood and vegetables into a shared caldron of simmering broth.

By the end of the meal, 11 people had unwittingly contracted the new coronavirus, the largest single cluster of cases to date in Hong Kong. Reports about the family, later known in the local news media as the “hot pot clan,” alarmed many in this semiautonomous Chinese city, spurring restaurants to action and leading residents to avoid large banquet-style meals, as well as hot pot.

As restaurants around the world close or retool in an effort to enforce social distancing, Hong Kong’s hot pot restaurants offer both a cautionary tale and some good advice about how to continue to serve customers amid an epidemic.

Soon after the cases were confirmed, and just weeks after a lockdown was imposed in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the epidemic started, the party venue where the family had eaten closed its doors for good.

Other hot pot restaurants saw trade drop off rapidly. Spots famous for the dish pulled it from their menus.

One restaurant, Suppa, said business was down as much as 96 percent after news of the family spread across the city. For two days, it had no customers at all.

“The hardest part is to restore people’s confidence,” said Bong Kwok, 34, one of

Keep reading this article on The New York Times Business.

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