Good things will hopefully come to those who wait. China Live — the much-hyped, San Francisco-based Chinese food hall and market — was supposed to open a new outpost in downtown Seattle early next year. But, as one might expect, the pandemic has delayed plans. Co-founder George Chen tells Eater Seattle the multi-venue emporium likely won’t arrive until spring 2022.
When China Live does finally debut, it will bring full-service restaurants, bars, and shops in a 13,000 square-foot space to the heart of Amazon’s campus at 2107 Westlake Avenue, with seating for around 300 and a rotating menu of local, seasonal fare. But there will be adjustments. Chen says his team is currently redesigning the space with “more mindfulness” to the new realities of the pandemic — even though it will (hopefully) open at a time when there could be a vaccine or at least more effective management for the spread of COVID-19.
Originally, there were several open kitchens planned throughout the market and slow-cook stations providing diners with a hands-on experience. In the revised plans, the kitchens will still be open, but viewed through walk-by, glass corridors, where customers can order the food off tablets or cell phones. There will be less person-to-person contact, and seating will be segregated into “pods” or sections. When thinking through the revised layout and design, technology will play a “large part,” Chen says.
China Live has been struggling to stay afloat in its current San Francisco home, since indoor dining has been closed in the Bay Area city for much of the past six months. With restaurants in the city now allowed to open at 25 percent capacity, the food hall is trying to add more retail space, while opening up more venues. Still, sales are only about 25 to 30 percent of what they were pre-COVID.
How those struggles might impact the Seattle plans remain to be seen. In a sense, having such a large gap from when the project was first announced this February to the original 2021 target likely allowed the China Live team some flexibility. Just as in San Francisco, retail is going to play a big role at the food hall, with shops hawking condiments, spices, snacks, produce, fancy cookware, and gifts. There will also be a culinary education component, with tastings and presentations regularly available, as well as TVs showing videos of Chinese cooking techniques. All of those elements should still hold up.
But 2022 is a long way off, and South Lake Union could look a lot different by then, with Amazon pulling out of building leases in the area, allowing many corporate employees to work from home until next year, and growing its Bellevue presence, suggesting its stake in Seattle may soon be diminished. Despite all that uncertainty, Chen says, “China Live still believes in the Seattle location and with Amazon as our anchor landlord.”