JP Kitchen closes for good in Billings


JP Kitchen

JP Kitchen Asian Bisto on 24th Street West.

Another local Billings restaurant closed for good after one of its employees tested positive in July for the novel coronavirus.

Kalvin Tang, owner of the Billings-based Asian bistro JP Kitchen, decided to close Saturday. The restaurant was temporarily closed after the employee reported symptoms July 15.

The employee did not have direct contact with customers, but worked with co-workers, Tang said. The employee showed mild symptoms and worked for about a day or so before reporting severe symptoms on July 15, Tang said. He posted about the closures on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

The nine other staff members have not showed symptoms as of Monday, Tang said, but two others have opted to get tested. Tang received a test at the Shrine Auditorium last week, but said Monday he hadn’t gotten test results.

“At that point, it was just better safe than sorry,” Tang said.

Closing the restaurant and investing in another venture made more sense than spending the money to reopen JP Kitchen, Tang said. Financial struggles brought on by the pandemic also played a role in closing down after five years of operating.

It’s an opportunity to open a different restaurant in the space he is renting now, Tang said.

“I’ve always wanted to step into the fast-casual segment of the restaurant industry,” Tang said.

But JP Kitchen isn’t the only business that has closed, or experienced temporary shut-downs due to COVID-19 exposure, financial struggles and a wide variety of other issues.

Other Billings restaurants including Oktoberfest German Restaurant and Lilac closed down over the past few months citing financial strains from the impact of the coronavirus. St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and the HUB Drop-In Center are also scheduled to close.

The Montana District U.S. Small Business Association conducted a survey over the past two days that identified the needs and concerns of 12 small businesses primarily in Bozeman and Butte.

Depending on how many employees there are, if one or two get sick or need to quarantine it can wipe out a high percentage of a company’s staff, according to SBA Montana district director Brent Donnelly. Having to stay home also impacts an employee’s paycheck. Businesses seem to be taking public health guidelines seriously. 

“Business owners and their employees, to some extent, view themselves as family,” Donnelly said. 

The onset of COVID-19 was quick, so businesses have had to get innovative and conduct daily operations differently. And with the country experiencing a recession and high unemployment rates, it’s important for businesses to utilize federal and state resources to get up and running again, Donnelly said.

The backlog in tests also affects business owners who are awaiting results to decide next steps in reopening, Tang said.

The turnaround for statewide asymptomatic testing has been delayed due to a backlog in tests at the out-of-state contract laboratory, Quest Diagnostics, and with the recent surge in cases, investigations and contact tracing can take some time, RiverStone Health spokesperson Barbara Schneeman said.

Yellowstone County has received a varying number of cases every day since the beginning of July, Schneeman said. On Friday, 39 new cases were confirmed in Yellowstone County, resulting in a total of 605 total active cases and 1,022 total cases in the county. Nine counties, including Yellowstone County, were named hot spots for COVID-19 by Gov. Steve Bullock during a press conference on Wednesday.

But contact tracing can take time. If all 39 of the new confirmed patients came into contact with 10 people, that’s almost 400 phone calls that have to be made. Not everyone picks up or calls back, Schneeman said.

RiverStone Health recently hired 21 nursing students to help with contact tracing.

“We’ve had double-digit case reports for the majority of July,” Schneeman said.

Tang’s parents owned and operated the Jade Palace in Billings for more than 30 years until it closed in 2013. Tang, with the help of his wife, Kirsten Tang, was inspired to open his own establishment, focused on modern Asian cuisine. The letters “J” and “P” stand for Jade Palace, he said.