Hopefully good things will come to those who wait. China Live – the much-touted Chinese food hall and market in San Francisco – should open a new outpost in downtown Seattle early next year. But as expected, the pandemic has delayed plans. Co-founder George Chen tells Eater Seattle that the multi-venue emporium is unlikely to arrive until spring 2022.
When China Live finally makes its debut, full-service restaurants, bars, and shops will be full-service across 13,000 square feet in the heart of the Amazon campus at 2107 Westlake Avenue with around 300 seats and a rotating selection of local, seasonal fare. But there will be adjustments. According to Chen, his team is currently redesigning the room with “more mindfulness” to the new realities of the pandemic – even if it (hopefully) opens at a time when there might be a vaccine or at least more effective management for the spread of COVID -19.
Originally, several open kitchens and slow cook stations were planned across the market to offer guests a practical experience. In the revised plans, the kitchens will remain open, but are viewed through walk-in glass corridors where customers can order food from tablets or cell phones. There will be less personal contact and the seating will be divided into “pods” or sections. Technology will play a “big role” in thinking through the revised layout and design, says Chen.
China Live is struggling to stay afloat in its current San Francisco home as food has been largely closed in the Bay Area for the past six months. With the city’s restaurants now allowed to be 25 percent open, the Food Hall is trying to create more retail space while opening more venues. Nevertheless, sales are only 25 to 30 percent of sales before COVID.
How these struggles could affect Seattle plans remains to be seen. In a way, having such a large gap between the project’s initial announcement back in February of this year and its original 2021 target likely allowed the China Live team some flexibility. Just like in San Francisco, retail will play a huge role in the grocery hall. The stores sell spices, condiments, snacks, products, fancy cookware and gifts. There will also be a culinary educational component, with regular tastings and presentations, and televisions showing videos of Chinese cooking techniques. All of these elements should still hold up.
However, there is still a long way to go until 2022, and South Lake Union could look very different by then. Amazon is pulling out of leases in the area so many corporate employees can work from home until next year, and expanding its presence in Bellevue, its stake in Seattle could soon be reduced. Despite all this uncertainty, Chen says: “China Live still believes in Seattle and in Amazon as our anchor landlord.”