Many local restaurants took a hit when the pandemic declared dining-in off the menu. But for a restaurant that revolves around a time-honored tradition, take out wasn’t an option.
This was the case for the Han Restaurant, one of the first to bring the tradition of Chinese Hot Pot to the Hartford area in 2016. A 2,000-year-old dining tradition in which participants cook their own meat, veggies, and noodles in a shared pot of broth, resulting in a communal eating experience that was severely compromised during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Other restaurants can do to-go,” said Ji Wei Zhang, the General Manager at the Han Restaurant. “But hot pot—it’s not easy to do to-go”
This is because, along with being entrusted to choose their broths and cook their meal, Hot Pot customers are also encouraged to make their own sauces, a hands-on task that is imperative to the experience according to Zhang.
“You need to create the sauce yourself with a variety of items together” said Zhang. “This is why you have hot pot. But it doesn’t make sense at home–you can’t do it.”
Such a personalized culinary process had to endure intense adaptation once the pandemic was reaching its peak. The Han Restaurant was closed for over six months in 2020. That same year, a lift in government mandates allowed for hot pot to take place again in September.
However, the return to normalcy was strenuous. Precaution was paramount with masks, screens, social distancing and gloves all required for hot pot participants which ultimately hindered the experience.
“When we restarted in September, it was slow” said Zhang. “Even sometimes it’s not enough to pay the salary.”
In the following months, business came closer to resuming its normal pace. This was after the restaurant caved into cost-saving decisions, such as closing on Tuesdays and eliminating the serving of weekday lunch. As of now Zhang claims that 90% of the Han Restaurant’s original business rates have returned, but short-staffing still presents a challenge.
“We keep getting better and better” said Zhang. “Business is coming back, but that means we have less and less waiters to work with us, so that’s why I have to run around and help everywhere.”
Although the Han Restaurant is still recovering from the pandemic impact, it seems that the worst is over as devoted customers circle back for the Hot Pot experience they know and love.
“Our good customers, our return customers—they know us even at heavy and dangerous times” said Zhang. “They still come to support us, so we are so appreciative of them.”
To take part in the hot pot tradition yourself, be sure to head to the Han Restaurant location at 310 Prospect Avenue or visit their website at hanrestaurantusa.com