Family-owned Asia Express to be evicted from student center

Students line up to grab some chinese good at Asia Express in the Cesar Chavez building on Tuesday, April 19. Erik Verduzco / staff photographer

Frank and Shally Meng, employees at Asia Express in the Cesar Chavez Student Center, work tirelessly 14 hours nearly every day and barely make more than $20,000 combined each month.

They recently mortgaged their house in order to pay off their $51,411.37 debt to the student center.

The rent is due today. They don’t have nearly enough money to pay it.

“Nothing has changed,” Shally Meng said. “It’s all the same.”

Last month, the two were served a three-day notice to close after an attempt to retract the original eviction notice, which ordered them to vacate by April 1.

Today, they are still fighting to reduce their $10,000 rent. However, their rent has decreased $1,000 since the business opened in 1997. Adjusted for inflation, it is a decrease of more than 50 percent.

The fight began in 2009, when the Mengs first experienced financial hardship. Since April 2010, the restaurant pays half their rent.

The attempt to save the business picked up momentum late February when Frank started a petition that collected 1,300 student signatures and generated letters of support.

The couple also planned to meet with Associated Students Inc., March 8 to explain their case.

“The board only gave us two minutes to speak and we did not have time to show our presentation,” Meng said in an email.

Meng claims that the business office lost the petition and letters of support from faculty and staff.

“It was a big petition with so many signatures. How could they lose it,” he said. “I had extra copies of some of the letters. I sent them two copies of each extra I had. I said: ‘You lost them, so here’s two more so you won’t lose them anymore.’ They never contacted me.”

Students also pulled together to provide support for the Mengs.

“Forty percent of students at SF State are of Asian background,” said Shi Zeng, president of the Chinese student and scholar association, in a letter. “We are very proud of our university to have a restaurant like Asia Express that serves real Asian food.”

In addition to rent, the Mengs pay for upkeep on their business, including heat, power and new renovations. Last year, the Mengs paid $350,000 for improvements. Only $89,000 of it was returned, according to documents shown to [X]press by Meng.

“This is my business, but not my space,” Meng said. “I put money in to help them. They owe me still.”

The Mengs must also pay a Pacific Gas and Electric bill that Meng finds disproportionate to his actual energy use.

“I don’t even use the elevators, I just use what’s in here,” he said. “I don’t know what to think. I ask to see a copy of my energy bill and no one can show me.”

Guy Dalpe, managing director of the student union, declined to comment on the allegations made by the Mengs.

When the eviction notice was sent out in March, the Mengs hired a lawyer whose cost comes to $350 an hour. Due to financial constraints, they could not afford to pursue the matter.