Owners of Simple NYC Navigate the Pandemic with the Renaissance Team at Their Side
So many small businesses were devastated by the pandemic and forced to close. The survivors summoned all of the resourcefulness and perseverance they could muster in order to make it through one of the most trying periods in New York City history. This was the case with Simple NYC, an Asian inspired poke and bento box spot in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side that not only reopened its existing storefront late last year, but also in August of this year launched a new concept, a creative salad fast casual restaurant called Simple Next Door. The owners of Simple, Kim Lee, and his wife, Betty Chung, have been Renaissance clients for a few years. We were proud to stand by their side during Covid, providing the business with an emergency loan, helping Kim and Betty adapt to a rapidly changing situation and providing moral support along the way.
We recently stopped by Simple, located at 109 Eldridge St., just as the busy lunch hour was coming to an end, to talk with Betty about everything she and Kim have been through not just in the past year-and-a-half but since opening for business in 2016. We’re inspired by this small business success story, and we think you will be, too.
On its website, Simple is described as, “a very tiny but cozy mom-and-pop restaurant cooking up some really distinctive Asian meals inspired by the well-being of Mankind.” Kim and Betty have been in the food business for years. He was a corporate concept chef for a large firm that provides food at airports across the country, and together they’ve run restaurants in Flushing and Elmhurst, Qyeens. Five years ago, they set their sights on Chinatown in Manhattan, where gentrification has changed the neighborhood dramatically. They believed there was room for a casual spot catering to all different types of people in the area, a place offering affordable and healthy food. Simple quickly became a go-to spot not only for locals but for people visiting from overseas. Betty explained, “We found that our food is actually very global. We have tourists from around the world, from Germany, from Russia, from Pakistan, China. Thailand. Everybody gives us good feedback. They love it.”
Following New York’s Covid shutdown in March of 2020, Simple closed temporarily and did not reopen for nine months. Kim and Betty survived by working with the City of New York to provide food to seniors stranded in their homes. And then they self-quarantined for a few weeks, sanitized the restaurant from top to bottom and reopened this past December.
Kim and Betty got to know the Renaissance team when they started stopping by for lunch shortly after Simple opened for business. “They told us about all of the services they provided,” said Betty. “We didn’t know about all of these things (loan products, training, workshops) that are available. They said, ‘let us know if we can help in any way.’ From that point on the friendship was there.”
“They have helped so much,” Betty added. “They helped us apply for small business loans. And this is very, very big. They helped us to get certified as a Minority and/or Women-owned Business Enterprise. We even closed a loan during the pandemic (over Zoom, signing documents digitally).”
When asked what it was like to have Renaissance is their corner during the pandemic, Betty teared up and responded, “When I talk about them I am very emotional because they helped us get through very difficult times, and when you think no one cares about small businesses, they’re there. They never see us as too small or too big. They have all the patience in the world to help us.”
The road ahead for all small businesses is perilous, Simple included. Many of the restaurant’s most reliable customers have moved away. “It’s going to take a long time to regain a new group of loyal customers,” Betty acknowledged. Opening Simple Next Door wasn’t easy. The lease for the neighboring space was signed before the pandemic. Due to problems sourcing ingredients from overseas, the menu changed repeatedly before opening day. “Finally in August we decided to reduce the menu, open and see how it goes,” said Betty.
But having the Renaissance team as a support system has made a big difference. Betty compared it to finding yourself in the ocean drowning and having someone throw you a life preserver. “This is why I love them,” she explained, “because they have a human touch. They care about you as a person and they will think of any way that they can to help you.”