South-Asian owned businesses across the Washington, D.C. area have been especially hard-hit amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Largely, these businesses ranging from event venues and organizers to dance studios and local restaurants, are most concerned about losing customers and revenues (even if some have managed to shift their business online or in the case of restaurants to takeout and delivery). Most businesses are in dire need of help to pay rent, payroll, insurance premiums, and other operational expenses. Small businesses, especially those owned by people of color are more likely to lack the privileges and resources that large national brands have in times of crisis.

We had the opportunity to connect with a local dance studio, a restaurant and catering company, a small ethnic grocery store, an event and wedding planner, and a children’s learning center to hear more about how they are coping with the pandemic.

Zind Performing Academy

Zind Performing Academy is a local Indian Bollywood dance studio with three locations in Silver Spring, Maryland, Sterling, Virginia, and Nottingham, Maryland. They exist to teach and provide performing opportunities to people ranging in age from 5-year-olds to seniors. They recently began offering online dance tutorials through a platform called Naach Nation.

For Zind, owner and founder Nina Kay Thomas and her fellow instructors have found new ways to reach their students through alternative teaching methods, which they plan to use even after the pandemic is over. To help their instructors stay productive, they have opened up different classes and instructors have been able to explore different dance styles. They’ve also had members of their team start experimenting with video editing and graphic design. 

Fortunately, the dance academy has been able to stay open for business during the pandemic and provide some stability to their students. There is nothing that tops the experience of getting live instruction from inside a studio but it is a more flexible, convenient option, and they believe that dance instruction will definitely be more prominent online as time goes on. 

The Zind community is very supportive. All the company’s instructors and families have really been looking out for their students and trying to find different ways to enhance their learning even if it’s online. Whether that be trying out new dance styles, giving out dance assignments, providing 1:1 feedback – they are still committed to their student’s dance growth during this time. 

MSL International Children’s Learning Center

MSL International Children’s Learning Center is an educational institution with one branch in Germantown, Maryland and two branches in Owings Mills, Maryland, that offers a goal-oriented curriculum consisting of math, science, social studies, English and art in a socially-encouraging environment with emotionally and socially appropriate learning activities that are suitable for a child’s age, stage of development and interests.

Center owner AJ Sarkar believes that this pandemic will reshape the basic structure of our country and diaspora’s economy especially businesses dealing with children. They have already and will continue to put in place and maintain added safety protocols. They are also considering offering virtual classes for different age groups but then again childcare is a hands-on business. Once this pandemic ends, people will have to resume work whether, in person or virtually and they will not be able to work with children around so the childcare business will regain momentum pretty swiftly once this virus outbreak subsides.

During the coronavirus pandemic due to the low attendance of children at their centers and reduced daily operational activities, Sarkar has had time to work from home a couple of days a week. This has allowed him to finally develop a website for the company. He also finally made an Instagram page and Facebook page for the company which was long overdue. In their first 12 years in business before the pandemic, they strictly grew the business through word of mouth which worked thanks to their nationally-accredited program and competitive pricing. But post-pandemic, they will need additional tools to market themselves and get new customers while waiting for others to return. He is optimistic that the new website and social media presence will help his company grow even bigger than before.

The parents of children who learn at and attend MSL Centers have been extremely cooperative and supportive of their centers’ staff and policies and their continuous support are really appreciated. They are very appreciative of the free service being provided to parents who work in essential jobs through the EPCC program while also providing 3 meals a day to their children. They have been very communicative with parents and they have reciprocated very positively through the whole thing.

IndAroma

IndAroma, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is a modern Indian fusion restaurant and wedding caterer. 

According to IndAroma CEO Abhishek Handa, within the local wedding catering and restaurant industry, COVID19 has without a doubt affected how they operate now and will continue to operate as we recover from the pandemic. There is still some uncertainty of when things get back to normal and what the new “normal” will look like. Due to gathering limitations, they expect restaurant customers to return sooner than their catering customers. In the near to mid-term future, there may be much more focus on digital consultations with customers as opposed to in-person meetings. Customers may also prefer to continue using online apps, including the IndAroma mobile app, to pre-order their takeout orders. In the long term, they do feel things will get back to normal because people still want to gather, celebrate, and eat. These basic interactions have defined cultures from the beginning of time during other historic pandemics.

Over the last couple of years, IndAroma staff have noticed a trend of online ordering, but, this pandemic has accelerated the use of these technologies. IndAroma themselves have noticed an increased comfortability and much larger adaptation of the IndAroma app, which can be downloaded from the App Store for iPhone/iOS and on the Google Play store. They decided to sign up for third-party delivery apps, even though as a company they had avoided doing so in the past due to large commissions. However, they are taking advantage of converting those new customers into their own apps. This allows them to deliver a higher level of customer service due to having a more controlled transaction from end to end. 

In regards to future restaurant industry trends, they believe that people will still want to treat themselves to a dinner or lunch outside of their homes. As they see a push for more acceptance of remote work, restaurants that have primarily relied on corporate lunch traffic may see a decrease in the long term. Until there is more certainty due to a vaccine, they may see a decline in the number of times customers spend dining in. This may impact businesses that relied primarily on the sale of alcohol.

On the topic of the long term viability and diversity of the South Asian restaurant scene in our area, Handa believes that depending on the length of the pandemic, we may see businesses taking significant losses. Home-based businesses however tend to have less overhead and may survive by hitting pause. It may be hard for new and overleveraged businesses to not make it out on the other side without h going into further debt. The final outcome will be determined by the fiscal and monetary policies set forth by the government, as well as the landlord’s desire to work with their tenants. 

IndAroma Restaurant and Catering has seen such an outpouring of appreciation from their customers, not just for their business, but also to support their Shared Sponsorship Program, which donates meals to local hospitals.

Ginger & Spice Market

According to Ginger & Spice Market CEO Abhishek Handa, they do expect certain habits that have developed during this pandemic to linger for a while. In the near future, people may still want to limit their exposure to others by ordering out and may choose more often to cook at home. This is ultimately good for its grocery business. 

Handa and Ginger & Spice staff have heavily invested in launching their online grocery store operations, which allows customers to order contactless pickup or get groceries delivered to their homes. They have also increased their communication with their customers through e-newsletters and online advertisements.

Due to the pandemic and change in lifestyles, Handa feels that there has been and will continue to be a bigger push for cooking at home. There is an increased adaptation of ordering Indian groceries using web technologies which they feel may become the new norm.

Ginger & Spice Market is owned by the management of IndAroma.

Samaa Events by Samia

Samaa Events by Samia is an event and wedding planning company that conceptualizes, plans, and designs your special day. With years of experience, their aim is to conceptualize a unique service to accomplish their clients’ desires and goals. 

In regards to how the event and wedding plan business may change post-pandemic, owner Samia Ansari believes that in some regards there will be changes and in other regards, there won’t be changes. People will still get married. There is really no option otherwise. Many clients will not want to delay their events or weddings for two to three years. But, she anticipates elopements and intimate weddings becoming a trend soon. The majority of their clients aspire for smaller weddings but, because of South Asian culture, they are unable to avoid that against their family’s wishes. So they see the focus heading more towards the desire of the couples versus large Indian/Pakistani weddings. 

During the pandemic, Ansari has worked on the brand more than anything. She believes that you must have a brand before a company. Otherwise, your company doesn’t matter. Educating herself on event and wedding plan trends and business operations is a huge factor in this field to stay competitive.

As far as what changes future weddings might bring, Ansari believes that at the buffet line, wedding planners will have others serving food rather than having guests serve themselves; thus eliminating contact. She personally has found that the virus has panicked brides, but she thinks that everyone needs to take a step back and relax. Weddings can happen as soon as the lockdown ends but you’ll just have to work around the pandemic and the measures that the CDC has put into place. A good planner will tell you what to do and she is educated in terms of how we are going to make safety work for the virus! When you hire your planner, ask them about how well informed they are on the virus and what measures must be put into place to prevent the virus and other bacteria from spreading. 

Ansari has found that her clients are always awesome. She deals mainly with doctors so she tries her best to be communicative with them. Sometimes that means waking up at 3:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. for a phone call. But, if you are willing to make it in this industry then you have to do it. It’s where your passion lies!! And this is her dream! 

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