Daly City’s Moonstar Buffet closes after 30 years, moves into central kitchen for takeout

Months after sharing the trials of operating a buffet amid the pandemic, Daisy Li, owner of Moonstar Buffet in Daly City, will close her 30-year-old business but will pivot once more.

Moonstar Buffet will now operate in conjuncture with MoonChef, its sister company at 405 S. Canal St., South San Francisco, where it will continue to serve meals to-go from a central kitchen. Moonstar Buffet’s physical location in Daly City will close by the end of the month, which coincides with the termination of its lease. KTSF first reported its closure.

“Moonstar is still existing and will share the location with MoonChef,” Daisy Li, owner of Moonstar Buffet, told SFGATE. “It was a difficult decision, but the lease was also ending. … The buffet style isn’t going to work after the pandemic for a while. Customers will still be concerned about COVID.”

Li shared that had it not been for the ongoing pandemic, Moonstar Buffet would not have closed. But around September 2020, she began to seriously consider closing the longstanding business, and then in January 2021, Moonstar Buffet posted on Facebook that it would begin operations from MoonChef’s central kitchen by Jan. 11 (later changing the date to Jan. 18).

Daisy Li, CEO of Moonstar Buffet, sits inside the Daly City buffet just before the shutdown. The buffet will close at the end of February and operate within a central kitchen space in South San Francisco.

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Last July, SFGATE spoke to Li about the operational disparities buffets had in comparison with other restaurants. At the time, Li shared that her business was barely making enough sales to pay her staff, despite pivoting to takeout and eventually delivery.

There were many inherent challenges to transforming Li’s buffet into a takeout model during the pandemic, but she believed that shifting customers' habits was one of the hardest obstacles to overcome.

“We are not a regular restaurant that has a signature dish — our signature is the buffet itself,” Li told SFGATE in July. “[Customers] want to be able to select what they want and pick pieces within the pan.”

Moonstar Buffet’s upcoming closure comes as Bay Area restaurants learned Tuesday that San Mateo and Marin counties moved into the red tier of California’s four-tier, color-coded reopening plan, which allows restaurants to begin indoor dining at 25% capacity. (Daly City is in San Mateo County.)

Moonstar Buffet staff work inside the kitchen to prepare meals for seniors. One of the ways CEO Daisy Li has kept her staff working is through her second business, MoonChef, where they prepare meals for seniors in need. Moonstar Buffet will close at the end of February and operate within the shared central kitchen space where MoonChef operates.

Visual Street Films

Li’s decision to operate within the shared central kitchen was one way she realized that she could continue to run Moonstar to some degree, while also keeping her employees staffed, she said. Li said that her focus now is to do more nonprofit work and continue to provide meals to seniors in need. MoonChef continues to prepare thousands of meals for seniors and has been throughout the pandemic.

While Li is saddened by the new pivot, she also looks ahead to turning a new leaf.

“The pandemic is pushing my journey [but] our mission is to feed the needy,” Li said.

Fiona Lee, SFGATE deputy managing editor, helped contribute to this report.