STATE COLLEGE — Nikki Jiang, an employee at China Dragon on South Allen Street, said she was “shooing away” customers all day Thursday.
The manager was unavailable to speak, but Jiang said the restaurant was closed Thursday and would likely be closed Friday, as well.
Jiang said the restaurant was being investigated. On Thursday, Homeland Security agents, state Attorney General’s Office officials and State College police descended upon several local Asian restaurants as part of a federal investigation possibly involving immigration.
Federal authorities didn’t release details of the investigation Thursday, nor did they file charges or imply wrongdoing. At least 13 people were seen being taken from restaurants, placed in police vehicles and taken to the State College Municipal Building.
The police activity in State College drew attention, surprising local residents, including some who patronize the targeted restaurants.
“I like Asian food and this is a shame, because they are so successful,” said State College resident Jack Holtz, who wanted to eat at My Thai, one of the targeted restaurants, only to discover it was closed.
Two owners of Asian restaurants not involved in the investigation said they were worried about their businesses being indirectly affected.
At the Nittany Mall, a man and a woman who identified themselves as the owners of the Golden Ladle restaurant said they were concerned that the investigation would give all Asian restaurants a bad reputation.
Cindy Ma, owner of Pho 11 Vietnamese Restaurant on North Atherton Street, said she thinks business will slow down for her.
“Business was OK today, but I can’t speak for tomorrow,” Ma said. “I think it will hurt. People will think all Asian restaurants are involved.”
Bill Ebken, owner of the Frame Factory & Gallery, next door to Hundred Degrees Hot Pot in Westerly Parkway Plaza, said he’s never seen such a thing in State College.
Ebken got to work Thursday morning at 9:15 a.m. and then went out for a delivery. By 11 a.m. when he was back at his store, a swarm of “cop cars” flooded the parking lot and “raided” the restaurant next door, he said.
“I had no idea what was going on. There must have been about 25 agents and several unmarked cars in the parking lot and blocking the entrance,” he said. “They (officials) weren’t saying anything. They did take a lot of stuff, so we’ll see how things pan out.”
Ebken said he saw numerous officials enter the restaurant under “controlled chaos.”
“I didn’t see what they were searching for, but they came back out with computers and a lot of paperwork,” Ebken said. “I think it completely filled at least one car with boxes of the stuff they were packing up.”
Ebken said he eats at the three investigated restaurants at Westerly Parkway Plaza. In addition to Hundred Degrees Hot Pot and My Thai, the third was Fuji & Jade Garden — all of which joined a handful of local Asian restaurants targeted Thursday.
“We have friends who travel the world and said My Thai has some of the best food,” Ebken said. “They all seem to do really good business and get a lot of the Asian college students who hang there.”
He even keeps in touch with “Jimmy,” the owner of Hundred Degrees Hot Pot.
“That’s his American name; I don’t know his real name,” Ebken said. “He doesn’t speak English well, but he’s always been really nice.”
Holtz said he was shopping at the Goodwill and St. Vincent DePaul thrift stores in the Westerly Parkway when he heard the news — right before he was going to My Thai around 3:30 p.m. Thursday. But the restaurant was closed.
“I would have liked to go to the Thai place,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate that a group of businesses that seem to be doing well are going through this.”