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On Dec. 28, a misleading video of an employee of Hong Shing Chinese Restaurant went viral on the city's historically controversial social media platform 6ixBuzzTV. Ever since its release, the restaurant has received an outpour of support from users online and even a significant increase in takeout orders over the past week. However, the immediate response differed. An outpour of false accusations surrounding the cleanliness of the restaurant and not only unwarranted, but alarming, racially-targeted comments towards the family-owned business, Chinese cuisine and the Chinese community surged online.
The discriminatory narrative fuelled by the popular media platform and their encouragement of negative commentary surrounding it, is beyond harmful, especially given the past year of prejudice the AAPI community as a whole has faced in North America.
Many are quick to point out that incidents like this, epitomize the dangers of misinformation in the online realm by the major media organization that over 2 million individuals get their news from. What's leaving individuals even more confused, is the platform's professed love for the restaurant, contrasting their continuous stream of online activity, targeted towards taking them, and their online community down.
“In an age where we should be uplifting and supporting small businesses and communities, we still have organizations out there who make a living off of doing the exact opposite," says Chef Trevor Lui, co-founder of Quell, a creative agency in Toronto that focuses on representing the underrepresented in the food, beverage, health and lifestyle spaces.
In the video, originally posted by Instagram user @certifidee that still remains up, an employee is seen outside the restaurant with a trolley of white buckets behind him, while he is bent over, frantically scooping up food product that had spilled on the floor, back into its original container. The clip of the man picking up spilled product, then cuts to a video of him wheeling the buckets inside the store. The entire time, the video is narrated by the user who took it, who says that the sauce being picked up is going to be used in the restaurant. The video ends here.
Once the camera stops rolling, the only people who would see what happened next once the employee reentered the restaurant is, conclusively, the other staff present that evening at Hong Shing. And according to Colin Li, the owner of the restaurant, the employee was instructed to dispose of all containers afterwards, he said in an interview with Global News.
Despite this, the general consensus from 6ixBuzz's comment section and the media platform themselves, which bleeds into Hong Shing's comment section and even further into online spaces including the restaurant's Google Reviews, shows that people believe the restaurant moved forward to resell the sauce to customers.
They go forward in voicing negative commentary, unaware of the full context of the situation, sparking a bigger debate surrounding why they were left with this impression to begin with and why, in spite of hearing from the restaurant themselves, they are still unwilling to accept or converse about what really occurred, from the people who were actually there to verify it.
"We believe that ever since the video has been posted, we have been fighting an ongoing battle of defending the operation of a Chinese restaurant and dispelling the negative perceptions and stereotypes of Chinese hospitality establishments. People and certain organizations today are very quick to pass judgment and comment on anything posted without real context or understanding just for the sake of views and social clout," says Li. "We are deeply saddened to see that people still portray Chinese restaurants as dirty and unsanitary without actually going in and trying the place for themselves."
"To be operating in the city for over 24 years, it's a testament to who we are as a brand and restaurant. Serving authentic, top quality Chinese food is always our priority, especially after a fire last month, we know that we want to be a platform to change all these negative narratives circling around Chinese restaurants. It is just heartbreaking to see this anti-Asian sentiment, time and time again, as small businesses, especially in the Asian community, have had one of the roughest years to date."
Not reaching out to Hong Shing for a statement before or after the video went viral, the restaurant wishes the situation went differently, especially since seeing the media platform express in a comment on their video, "I actually eat from there this was heartbreaking to post."
"It is disheartening and disappointing that they did not approach us to ask about the video that was shared," says Li, who took over the family business from his parents approximately six years ago. "We would have appreciated the opportunity to explain and provide context to the situation and clarify to them our protocols on how we correctly dispose of damaged goods."
Chef Trevor Lui took to Instagram to voice his own displeasure with 6ixBuzz and their decision to share the video. In discussion with TasteToronto, he too is perplexed by the media platform's actions.
"My feeling is that if it's a place that you comment about, saying it's a place you go and you support and you are a, quote on quote news source sharing information, wouldn't the logical journalistic position be to contact the restaurant for a statement?" says Lui. "Some may say this is bias as I know the guys at Hong Shing, I've worked with them. I've stood in the kitchen with those guys and I'm a kitchen person, I'm a restaurant owner. They have a green pass for a reason. Right? In good standing."
After TasteToronto reached out to Hong Shing for further context on the video, they shared that an employee went out to the parking lot to help their supplier bring in product to the restaurant. Due to poor weather, the employee slipped while pushing a trolley of hot sauce, resulting in the spillage. In accordance with health and safety regulations for proper disposal at the restaurant, food waste cannot be left on the street or thrown out in drains. Instead, it is typically bundled together at the end of service, to be properly disposed of.
"As per our policy and protocols for damaged goods, we marked down which containers have been contaminated, and we decided that it was best to have all of the buckets of hot sauce to be disposed of and not used for consumption," says Li. "We have just recently come back from a fire, so we want to make sure our food quality and preparation is up to our standards and DineSafe standards."
Afraid to be reprimanded by management and not wanting to leave a mess on the ground, the employee didn't think to go back to the kitchen for a broom or a mop, attempting to use his gloves to pick everything back up instead, before heading back outside again later to properly clean the spillage.
"The employee did not know at the time that a video was being recorded about the whole situation because he was just trying to do his job and clean up so there are no further incidents. He informed management about what happened as soon as he came inside," says Li. "He told management that he spilled one bucket of hot sauce on the ground. We quickly acted by telling our employee to clean up the mess because next door to our restaurant is a condo that is full of pet owners. We did not want any pets to ingest the hot sauce by chance."
"Every restaurant has its own set of rules when it comes to what we call waste. It's actually a line item in the PNL in most places because we actually track waste because food costs so much money," says Chef Lui. "As a worker, you don't have the option if you drop the case of chicken to just pick it up and throw it away. It doesn't work that way. You put it back up onto the trolley, you bring it in, you track it, it's marked and then you discard it."
Inaction from 6ixBuzz in stopping the malevolent commentary and anti-Asian rhetoric sparked by their repost of the video, paired with their decisions to leave offensive commentary of their own on Hong Shing's social media page, leads many to expressing their apprehension for 6ixBuzz, insisting for followers of the platform to reconsider just who they're choosing to rely on as a reliable source for news.
"6ixBuzz operates in a certain way and they've made their money in a certain way. They go after paid content that is controversial, that has racial undertones, sexist undertones, homophobic undertones, this is not new to them," says Chef Lui. "They've been around since 2018 and there's a reason why people view them as entertaining, but they cannot be themselves, a legitimate news source, so the fact of posting what I would call unverified information, without doing the investigative work, as to what really happened and how it was addressed, is irresponsible. But if your MO is to operate that way, then you're never going to convince someone to operate differently."
Seemingly unappreciative of this exposure, the media company has also been actively responding in private messages to the accounts who have been publicly expressing their disdain of the platform.
After sharing this to her story, Instagram user @raqueloutloud received the following as a reply, which she also shares to her Instagram story:
Similarly, Brasa Peruvian Kitchen owner Michel Falcon also received an unexpected message from the media platform.
Unfazed by the company's actions, Falcon says, "I’m emotionless, only because I don’t expect much from that media company. Great to see the support Hong Shing is getting!"
Though shocking to read through the growing comment section, to many, this response from the 6ixBuzz community and the account itself was to be expected.
"If the MO is to post something that is non-investigative and non-verified in terms of how everything was actually handled, then it's used as a way to incite and welcome levels of commentary of which 6ixBuzz is known for. It's known to be divisive, it's known to pit communities against communities, so it's making money off the backs of culture and community in the city it very well is trying to quote on quote report on. That, to me, is an issue," says Chef Lui. "There's so many different angles of this that haven't been addressed because people don't want to have that discussion. They just want to be part of this whole narrative of talking about how a place might be really nasty and I would never eat there, right? That's just part of the click-bait of what 6ixBuzz does."
Based on their private messages posted publicly to accounts like @joshteewhy, who voiced his position against the media platform, 6ixBuzz is unhappy that Hong Shing called them out in the context of race.
Some users in the comments voice their confusion as to why the restaurant has brought up racial discrimination in their statement as well, but it's safe to say that people in the very same comment section, display exactly why the restaurant chose to do so. Before sharing their statement, what one would generally believe is an outdated and harmful stereotype towards Chinese food arose, appearing to still live on in the minds and actions of many today.
Instantly becoming a target of the century-old trope that Chinese restaurants are "dirty" "unclean" and "unsanitary," it does not matter if the intent of the platform was to strike a wave of racial hate, the fact that it's been occurring with no responsibility or accountability on 6ixBuzz's end, but rather an insistence to further it, is part of the overarching issue that those aware of the platform, knew would occur the moment they saw the video.
"In the topic of Hong Shing for anyone who doesn't know Hong Shing, they're a community restaurant. They've been around for a while, they've run into their own problems. They changed management in the mid-2010's, made tremendous headway in implementing a foundational basis to work with the community, supports community huge, puts out great content, operates with pride, then they have to deal with Covid," says Chef Lui. "The first regional restaurants that had to suffer way in advance of the first breakout in Toronto were Chinese restaurants. Over 80 percent of Chinese restaurants as early as January 2020 were already suffering."
As the restaurant addresses in their statement, the media platform "continues the discriminatory narrative of Chinese restaurants being unsanitary." Not reaching out to the restaurant for clarity beforehand and their present actions as the days go on, prove their unwillingness to address the obvious prejudice and bigotry building in their posts.
"There's a multitude of things here. There's a video that you watch that's an edited video. So no one is actually disputing whether something was spilled. There's actually a dispute on whether or not the same amount of buckets that were being wheeled on the cart were the same amount of buckets being taken in and that's just click-bait fodder. At the end of the day, is there proof that the product that was dropped on the floor was actually reused on the inside?" says Chef Trevor Lui. "They're all assumptions right? Because of, obviously, the misconceptions and stereotype of Asian restaurants, in particular, Chinese restaurants being dirty. And that's the undertone, right, so people don't think it's racist. Maybe we don't even have to use the term. That type of reporting, obviously is contradictory to supporting small businesses and helping subside the story of anti-asian and racist sentiment against a particular group of people."
Countering the negativity shone towards Hong Shing at this time are those who are speaking up to stand up for the restaurant. Whether it be other media organizations, fans of the restaurant or social media users who've yet to dine with them, the bright light is that people are using their voices to share the harm caused.
"We truly appreciate the community coming as a whole to support us and now we have a bigger collective voice to go against these platforms who try to perpetuate these discriminatory narratives," says Hong Shing's owner Li.
The restaurant has seen a dramatic increase in takeout orders since the incident happened, with many going online to show their love for the establishment. Here's to hoping the support stays consistent, especially in these next three weeks of restaurants having to abide by new provincial restrictions.
Reopening after a kitchen fire resulted in their nearly month-long closure, the restaurant has faced many barriers this past year, but are still going strong on their way to the celebration of their 25th anniversary this year on March 10. To support Hong Shing at this time, you can purchase their merchandise, give them a follow on Instagram, order takeout and keep an eye out for their birthday festivities as March rolls closer.
We attempted to reach out to 6ixBuzz for comment, but they have not replied.