By Steven Gu
I used to play tennis with the manager of Vitality Bowls, a health food restaurant in Santa Rosa.
Fu Long was a senior when I was a freshman in high school. Much better at tennis than I was ever going to be, Fu graduated from high school in 2015, studied business at the University of Washington, and returned to Santa Rosa to pursue her dream of running a restaurant. It was a big success, I’d heard.
I went by the other day to check on things.
The restaurant is open, but the doors are locked. The blinds are lowered—health guidelines and notices cover large portions of the windows—but inside I saw my friend Fu running around, taking orders over the phone while preparing food for customers.
Shortly after California’s lockdown, Fu stopped allowing customers to come inside for takeouts. Instead, she now asks customers to call her when they are in front of the store. She then delivers their food to their cars. Usually, few words are exchanged but Fu, [in her face mask and surgical gloves], always makes sure to wish the customer a good day before sprinting back into the store.
“We initially allowed customers to come into the store, but it was just extremely difficult to disinfect everything each customer touches, the pin pad, the counter, and sometimes the wall,” Fu explained. “It’s especially hard to do it just with help from my parents.”
She is fortunate that her suppliers are still providing necessities and ingredients for her, but cholera-grade disinfectant wipes are not included. Those she has to hunt for herself. She was lucky, she says—she found them on the first try at Costco, weeks ago. But now, more than a month into the shelter-in-place order, she is running low. She is subject to the same purchasing restrictions on disinfecting products as a normal family.
“I might have to make my own bleach solutions,” she says. (Following CDC guidelines) But she is just taking it one day at a time.
Fu didn’t want to talk about the employees she was forced to furlough. She now runs the restaurant herself with help from her mother and stepfather, who, risking their own safety, are making “the ultimate sacrifice to help me during this crisis.” She works at Vitality Bowls seven days a week, from 10 am to 8:30 pm. To cope with the stress, she works out on a stationary bike in her apartment every night.
“It puts me in a different mind space,” Fu says. “I don’t just want to work, eat, and sleep. I want to live a healthy life.”
I asked her if she ever thought about closing the restaurant.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Fu told me. She feels happy seeing people enjoying the food she made. Small as it may be, this is her contribution to the global fight against coronavirus. People have to eat.
Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote, “Time flies over us but leaves its shadow behind.”
I drove by the high school tennis courts where Fu and I used to play. They are closed now because of a virus, sealed off by yellow tape. The shadow is upon us.
Author’s Note: I wish to thank Fu Long for her help with this story, which is primarily based on a phone interview because of social distancing guidelines in the state of California. Vitality Bowls Santa Rosa is located at 1880 Mendocino Ave Suite G, Santa Rosa, California.