Koror’s decades-old Japanese restaurant, Dragon Tei, is closing its doors this Thursday, October 1, after nearly 30 years in business. It is one of the many businesses which have suffered the economic effects of COVID-19.
Dragon Tei’s mixed menu of Japanese and local dishes has historically drawn in both foreign and Palauan customers, with dinners like Gyusuji advertised next to Klengoes Belau el a Babii.
However, the management has said that, without the flow of tourists coming in to dine, keeping the restaurant open is far too costly.
Yuriko Cho Irikedamoto, who opened the restaurant nearly 30 years ago, says that right now the closure is indefinite, although she would prefer to reopen in the future.
“It depends on how long it takes for COVID to pass,” said Yuriko. “Right now it’s all over the world, and we don’t know when people will be able to travel again. But I would like this closure to not be permanent.”
She added that, although tourism is an important financial factor driving her business, she is especially thankful for her local customers.
“I really appreciate the customers who stayed with us,” she said. “Making people feel welcome is important to us, and we’re thankful that many local and resident customers kept coming back over the years.”
Ms. Flora Bel, who works at Dragon Tei as a waitress, says that the staff is trained to provide “a warm welcome and good service”, in addition to maintaining the quality of the food.
Ms. Bel is one of the newest staff at the restaurant, even though she has been working at Dragon Tei since 1999. Most of the others, she said, have worked there for over 25 years.
Although the main menu and decor of Dragon Tei reflect traditional Japanese culture, Ms. Bel says that the management has catered to local customers as well by adding Palauan foods to the menu, or, in some instances, mixing traditional Palauan cuisine with traditional Japanese cuisine. An example which Ms. Bel mentioned is the Taro Titan, a popular dish of boiled taro, which uses spices for an Asian-inspired “twist”.
Last November, the restaurant added a special lunch menu with local prices, featuring foods such as white-snapper sashimi and breaded pork cutlet for $12 each, in order to be more affordable to local customers. However, without the tourist clientele who would often opt for course dinners, which could cost as much as $55 per person, the management found that operating costs far outweigh the profits.
The challenge has been shared by many businesses in Palau, many of which have lowered prices in an attempt to remain open and cater to a local customer base. Some businesses which have managed to remain open have been forced to compensate by reducing hours or working-staff.
Dragon Tei will continue to serve customers up until this Wednesday, September 30.