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caption: The Royal India in Kirkland sits empty during what would typically be a busy time on Monday, March16, 2020. 
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The Royal India in Kirkland sits empty during what would typically be a busy time on Monday, March16, 2020.
Credit: KUOW PHOTO/CASEY MARTIN

Restaurant fights for life near epicenter of Seattle area's coronavirus outbreak

During the lunch buffet, normally it’s tough to get a seat out on the patio at Royal India in Kirkland – it has a view of Juanita Beach Park.

But on a sunny weekday afternoon, the patio chairs are stacked and Royal India is eerily quiet.

“We've never closed. Even if it's snowing or if it's rain or shine or whatnot,” said Zehra Bhatti, whose family has owned Royal India for almost 30 years. “We've always remained open. So closing the buffet, it was really, really tough.”

Royal India is just around the corner from Life Care Center in Kirkland. More than two dozen coronavirus deaths have been associated with the nursing home.

The restaurant is like all the others across Washington: closed to dine-in eating, allowed to offer only take-out or delivery. Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the closure this week as public health officials try to slow the spread of coronavirus.

But Bhatti said business had already tanked in the last couple of weeks.

“I mean, it's hard. I've seen my father build this place, and to see it go down like that ... It's quite hurtful,” she said.

Bhatti said she’s had to lay off more than 10 employees and what little delivery orders are coming in are barely keeping Royal India afloat.

State and local officials say people can help their local restaurants survive the outbreak by ordering out.

But they acknowledge the outbreak’s effects are dire. Roughly 300,000 people work in the restaurant and food service industry in Washington state.

“When you think of small business people who have restaurants that are in such difficulty,” Inslee said Monday, “I mean there’s vast disturbance in the economy.”