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A Rise in Violence Against Asian Americans Prompts NYC Restaurateurs to Take Action

Owners of top NYC restaurants including 886, Kopitiam, and Fish Cheeks are donating meals to shelters and raising awareness in the process

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Two women, Yin Chang and Moonlyn Tsai, are seen packaging boxes of food
Heart of Dinner’s Yin Chang (left) and Moonlyn Tsai packaging meals for elderly Asian Americans
Dan Ahn [Official]

A group of prominent Asian-American chefs and restaurants owners in New York — who represent some of the top restaurants in the city including Málà Project, Fish Cheeks, and Nowon — have teamed up to raise awareness about the recent rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans, particularly the elderly, in the United States.

The effort, called #EnoughIsEnough, was spearheaded by Eric Sze, chef and owner of East Village Taiwanese restaurant 886, who says he was prompted to take action after seeing videos of attacks on older Asian Americans in the Bay Area last week and how he felt that it hadn’t been covered enough by the mainstream media in the U.S. in the immediate aftermath. The campaign has already raised more than $4,000 as of this morning.

Sze reached out to a bunch of his friends in the restaurant industry and together the group decided that they would focus on donating meals to homeless shelters, particularly those located in areas like Chinatown with a large Asian-American population, and parts of Harlem and the Bronx, which have larger Black and brown populations.

The group is currently raising funds through an online campaign and was initially hoping to raise $10,000 to serve 1,000 meals on February 23 and 24. The fundraised blew past the $10,000 mark in just two and half hours, according to Sze, and group has since increased the ask to $20,000, with plans to double the number of meals served as well. Some of the organizations they’ve identified so far for meal distribution include the Bowery Mission, the Bronx Family Shelter, and Welcome to Chinatown.

A group of four people looking at the camera
Yin Chang ( extreme left) and Moonlyn Tsai delivering meals to an older Asian American couple during the pandemic
Alex Lau [Official]

Kopitiam co-owner Moonlyn Tsai, who along with her girlfriend Yin Chang runs Heart of Dinner, will be leading the meal delivery efforts in Chinatown on February 24. During the early months of the pandemic, Tsai and Chang’s organization was at the forefront of delivering meals to the elderly Asian population in Chinatown, many of whom were homebound and weren’t receiving culturally appropriate meals. Heart of Dinner will be doing much of the same in a couple of weeks, utilizing its existing network, and delivering 500 meals to the Chinese American Planning Council, Hamilton Madison House, and Nanoom House, in total, along with some direct deliveries to people’s homes.

“It is really heartwarming to see a community banding together through food,” says Tsai, adding that she was particularly heartened that her friends in the restaurant industry came together so quickly despite most of them facing challenges operating their restaurants during the pandemic.

An additional 500 meals will go to shelters in Harlem and the Bronx. In addition to the meal donations, the group is also organizing virtual cooking classes with chefs like Helen Nguyen of the modern Vietnamese restaurant Saigon Social, and Lucas Sin from Junzi Kitchen that will take place on February 22. Called the “Lunar Banquet for Uncle Vicha,” the event recognizes not the just the start of the Lunar New Year but is also aimed at honoring the memory of Vicha Ratanapakdee, the 84-year-old San Franciscan, who died after he was pushed by a teenager onto the pavement.

A poster depicting Vicha Ratanapakdee
The campaign honors the memory of 84-year-old San Franciscan Vicha Ratanapakdee, who died after a teenager pushed him on to the pavement
Jonathan D. Chang [Official]

The chefs will be utilizing Essex Pearl’s kitchen at the Market Line on the Lower East Side to film the cooking demonstrations, and details for those classes will be emailed to folks after they make a donation to the campaign.

Others like Amelie Kang, the owner of Málà Project, and Sakura Yagi, of T.I.C. Restaurant Group, are planning to raise awareness about the rise in hate crimes through their restaurants’ and personal Instagram accounts.

One part of this coordinated effort is to raise awareness so more mainstream media outlets will increase coverage of crimes against Asian Americans. The New York City Police Department created a Asian Hate Crimes Task Force last year in response to a major spike in verbal and physical assaults toward Asian Americans during the pandemic; earlier on in the pandemic, several Chinese restaurants in the city reported vandalism and harassment shortly after the state-mandated shutdown in March last year. Even before the shutdown, Chinese restaurants in the city were already seeing a massive drop in sales due to xenophobia and misinformation spreading about the virus. In March last year, Russell Jeung, a professor at the San Francisco State University teaching Asian-American studies created a tool to track hate-related incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. By the end of last year, it had recorded more than 2,800 incidents that were self-reported, according to USA Today.

The chef Eric Sze seen here preparing meal boxes
Eric Sze preparing meals for hospital workers earlier in the pandemic
886 [Official]

Another part of the campaign, however, is to encourage other Asian Americans to speak out about incidents or harassment and to encourage others in the Asian American community to start similar initiatives.

“We want to empower people who feel like their opinions don’t matter,” says Sze. “Sometimes in Asian cultures it’s nailed into your head that your voice doesn’t matter and that you have to conform. But this needs to change and we need to inspire more people to speak out, not just in the food industry, but in the fashion industry, and in tech as well.”

For now, Sze and the rest of the group are focussed on the meal delivery aspect of the initiative and are continuing to raise funds for the effort. Details for the potential Instagram neighborhood food tours will follow in the near future.

Here’s a full list of the restaurants participating in this effort:

  • 886
  • Junzi
  • Nguyen Coffee Supply
  • Fishcheeks
  • Saigon Social
  • Mala Project
  • Heart of Dinner
  • Double Chicken Please
  • Win Son
  • Nowon
  • Madame Vo
  • Ho Foods
  • Bessou
  • Very Fresh Noodles
  • Di An Di
  • Patisserie Fouet
  • Milk & Cream Cereal Bar
  • Feed Forward
  • Aqua Best
  • Essex Pearl
  • T.I.C Restaurant Group (Rai Rai Ken, Shabu Tatsu, Cha An, etc)
  • Southeast Asia Food Group

UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect the new funding goal