Southeast Asian culture imbued into a restaurant that lies in the heart of Cerritos, Class 302 Cafe is the go-to hot spot for Taiwanese cuisine. From dishes ranging from boba drinks to shaved ice, every dish is mixed with Taiwan comfort.
Inside the restaurant, you will be surrounded by an old-school styled classroom, with blackboards on the walls and desk-inspired seats. The store’s set-up is to inspire a trendy school feeling for students.
When the COVID-19 hit, restaurants were hit harder than any other businesses open – the income during that time was hardly sustainable for Class 302 Cafe to keep open.
A shortage in employees to work and customers to serve made making a living all the more difficult.
William Chen, a college student at the California State University, Long Beach, currently works as the manager of the Class 302 Cafe in Cerritos. He and his family have managed the cafe and restaurant comfortably for the past several years.
Having immigrated from Taiwan at the young age of 3 ½ years old, Chen knew nothing of his Taiwanese culture. Slowly but surely, through customers and recreating popular dishes, he incorporated the culture he once forgot into his everyday life.
“I’ve met so many different people [through the restaurant] who shared similar interests and reminiscences about the nostalgia of the small island,” Chen said. “I was proud to be Taiwanese.”
Through his passion for cooking and love of food, he studied hard to be able to learn more about and represent his culture.
However, in 2020, when COVID-19 plagued the U.S., everyone was urged to stay home in fear of contracting the deadly virus; Chen was unable to practice or serve.
Take-out or other online ordering applications became a norm for citizens, leaving the restaurant deserted and empty without any in-person interaction. The only customers to walk through Class 302 doors were those picking up to take home or deliver.
“During the very beginning of the pandemic, business was very poor,” Chen stated. The consequence of the stay-at-home order resulted in less customers for businesses overall, including Class 302 Cafe.
Forced to stay and cook in the kitchen, transitioning to what was deemed as normal to a very secluded form of work made it uncomfortable for the workers to manage.
Not only did the establishment struggle with profit and customers but they faced a different and more personal hardship with their employees.
In fear of contracting COVID-19 and in light of receiving stimulus checks, many experienced workers decided to quit their jobs. This shortage in employees meant that Chen and his family had to start from scratch and train new staff all over again.
Thankfully, high school and college students were eager to find work which allowed restaurants like Class 302 to manage.
The task at hand was now on him to rebuild the system by training the new and inexperienced workers.
Even with the shortage in staff, the cafe was also forced to decrease the amount of employees working on the floor each day as the work-to-staff ratio was simply uneven with dine-in restrictions.
“My experience working at Class 302 so far has varied from happy to distressed,” Chen vocalized. “I’ve developed many friendships from working at this small cafe, but [I] also lost a lot of my self-confidence.”
Having to regain his communication skills and social confidence alongside working to re-open his business back to normal was a challenge for Chen as he had grown accustom to working in such a small space.
The Class 302 Cafe team had a lot on their plate to satisfy the amount of people resuming their dining experience, with California’s opening restaurants back up.
Chen said that he wants nothing more than to share his love and knowledge [and skills] of food with others. Doing what he enjoys most [cooking] means that his appreciation for food can be used to please anyone looking for a good meal.
Class 302 Cafe is still following the health department’s protocols regarding masks and vaccines. Masks are no longer required indoors, but the cafe still has a sign encouraging them alongside a box of masks in the event that a customer may request one.
The Class 302 Cafe opens up to any person that might want to try and indulge in Taiwanese food and culture.