SOUTH DAYTONA, Fla. —  At Chop Chop Korean Restaurant in South Daytona, owner Saehee Martin serves up her food and culture with a smile.

She loves to educate her customers about all things South Korean.

What You Need To Know

  •  Owner of Korean restaurant receives hurtful phone calls

  • Some people tell Saehee Martin all Asians are to blame for COVID pandemic

  • Martin is a U.S. citizen, is married to a U.S. Air Force veteran

  • Many customers praise restaurant, owner

“I like to show them what is a real Korean home-cooked meal,” Martin said. “Whatever you eat, I eat every day." 

Martin has run the business with her family for the past three years, but since the COVID-19 pandemic began, she said attitudes toward them have shifted.

“After coronavirus is yes, absolutely more discrimination from that,” Martin said. 

It started out with daily phone calls, the latest coming Friday afternoon, she said.

“Usually people phone call to me, and they asking for, asking for, ‘Do you have dog meat?’ " Martin said. 

She said she thought she misunderstood, until they asked for cat, too.

“And they are laughing, and they say, ‘Go back to your home,’ and hang up the phone," Martin said.

The harassment has escalated, causing her to put up signs in her restaurant that state the business has the right to refuse service.

Martin said she believes lack of education is to blame.

“They say they’re thinking about all Asians are bringing coronavirus to the United States,” Martin said. “And I say, ‘Excuse me, I am from Korea. I am not even from China. I think you something misunderstand.’ And they say, ‘What is the difference between Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Philippines? All Asians are the same thing. Go home.’ ”

It’s caused pain she never expected, especially because she has been a U.S. citizen for nearly 30 years and is married to a U.S. Air Force veteran.

“Oh, first time I was crying a lot,” Martin said.

She said she knows she is not the only one receiving such treatment. Many of her Asian customers don’t come in anymore, limiting their time in public out of fear, she said.

“Some people think all Asians come from China, and we bring that coronavirus to this country,” Martin said. “No, we don’t. We are part of a victim, too,” Martin said.

She said the discriminatory treatment is just an added stress, as her business is already struggling and she has seen COVID-19 result in the closure of many other restaurants.

But loyal customers have her back.

“It is just a pandemic, you know,” Brandon Bowie said as he picked up takeout. “There is a way to respond to it, and the way is to care about your neighbors.” 

Starla Packman, who said she has been eating at the restaurant for years, said, “I love Saehee. I love the restaurant. The food is excellent. They are wonderful people.”

The support means a lot to Martin.

“Butterfly on my heart, it makes me feel so good,” Martin said. 

It helps her hope for change and greater understanding.

“We have to be helping together, to get over this pandemic, you know?" Martin said.