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‘It’s a Total Loss’: At Least Two Oakland Chinatown Restaurants Destroyed by Fire

Neighborhood favorites Rang Dong and Huangcheng Noodle House will be closed for the foreseeable future — but vow to eventually reopen

Firefighters climb onto the roof of the Chinatown building, with smoke billowing Oakland Fire Department/Twitter

Firefighters successfully contained a five-alarm fire at 718 Webster Street in Oakland Chinatown yesterday morning — a valiant effort that ultimately saved the entire block from burning to the ground. But the news was more sobering for at least two well-loved restaurants located on the ground floor of the building: Both Rang Dong, a 14-year-old Vietnamese restaurant, and Huangcheng Noodle House, a popular Shanxi spot known for its knife-cut noodles, were destroyed by the fire. The two restaurants will be closed for the foreseeable future.

“It’s a total loss,” Rang Dong co-owner Sachiko Muruoka, who runs the restaurant with her husband, tells Eater SF. Known for its pho and less common regional noodle soups like bun rieu and bun bo Hue — as well as its cheerful, friendly service — the restaurant has been a Chinatown staple for more than a decade.

When reached by phone, Muruoka recounted her nightmare of a morning: At a little after 8 a.m. yesterday, she got a phone call from the owners of the building, telling her that the roof of the building was on fire — a conflagration that started in a dumpster behind the building. By the time her husband was allowed inside the building, at around 4 p.m., the damage was overwhelming — most of it from the massive amount of water used to put out the blaze, Muruoka says. The ceiling had completely collapsed in both the kitchen and dining area, and there was severe water damage throughout the space. “It’s horrible,” Muruoka says.

Huangcheng Noodle House owner Jimmy Huang described a similar scene at his restaurant: collapsed ceilings, a broken refrigerator, broken tables. “Everything is broken,” he says. Everything will have to be replaced.

For both restaurants, the situation is especially heartbreaking because, of course, they’ve already been struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis. Both Rang Dong and Huangcheng have managed to stay open — Huangcheng was just barely able to break even with takeout sales, Huang says. But he’d been determined to keep going in order to keep his staff employed. Likewise, Rang Dong has stayed open for takeout, redoubling its efforts to serve customers food via delivery apps, Muruoka says — even adding larger portions of meat to every order in hopes of keeping their customers happy. “We tried everything,” she says. “And the customers kept coming back.” And now this.

Meanwhile, the East Bay Times reports that other businesses lost to the blaze include grocery store Aloha Market, the Great Wall Co. newspaper stand, and two other restaurants — Gum Wah (known for its rice dumplings and roast duck wonton soup) and T&K Cafe (a Hong Kong-style cafe). As of publication time, Eater SF was unable to reach anyone at Gum Wah or T&K to ascertain the extent of the damage.

Both Huang and Muruoka say they’re waiting to see how much they’ll be able to get from their insurance companies, but regardless, Huang says, the building’s owners have told him that the process of rebuilding will likely take at least six months or a year. For now, the entire building has been boarded up.

Still, both restaurateurs say they’re determined to do whatever it takes to reopen.

“We’re going to try to work with the insurance and work with the [building] owners’ insurance to rebuild it — and we will rebuild,” Muruoka says. “We will come back to the same location, and we’re going to come back strong.”

Huang, a third-generation Shanxi noodle maker, says he can’t imagine not reopening Huangcheng Noodle House because for him, running a restaurant isn’t even about making money — it’s about feeding people and making people happy.

“Doing this job gives me happiness,” he says. “Unless I retire or get sick, as long as I can still do it, I will.”

Good Good Eatz, a local initiative that has been supporting Oakland Chinatown restaurants and markets, is directing community members who’d like to help to the Save Our Chinatowns GoFundMe campaign. That campaign has benefited businesses in both Oakland and San Francisco Chinatowns throughout the coronavirus pandemic — now, the money raised will be distributed to businesses affected by the fire.

Rang Dong

724 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607 (510) 835-8375

Gum Wah Restaurant

345 8th Street, , CA 94607 (510) 834-3103

Huangcheng Noodle House

734 Webster Street, , CA 94607 (702) 481-3124

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