When the pandemic struck, chef and reality TV star Shirley Chung quickly pivoted her restaurant business to handle the crisis.
Dealing with anti-Asian hatred was another matter.
When she heard of alarming racist incidents and hate crimes in the country recently, including the murder of six Asian women near Atlanta in March, Chung felt the need to speak out.
“Everything that was going on struck us so close to the heart,” the 44-year-old said of herself and the chef community in Los Angeles.
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Chung, who was a finalist on Bravo’s “Top Chef” reality show, also suffered incidents at Culver City, Calif., Restaurant Ms Chi Cafe, which she co-owns with her husband. His occasional diners began to question its cleanliness, despite seeing sanitized tables in front of them. The back door was vandalized with graffiti. In response, Chung added additional cleaning services and installed security cameras to make its customers and staff feel safe.
More recently, someone stole a takeout order from the counter, threatened her husband, Jimmy Lee, and shouted racist remarks.
“It made me want to talk some more and really share my experience,” said Chung, who was born in Beijing and immigrated to the United States at the age of 17.
While the couple’s parents wanted them to remain silent out of fear for their safety, Chung said making the noise would help draw attention to the plight of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community and the impact of hatred over their businesses.
“We don’t want to be silent anymore,” she said. “We want to lead by example and let our parents see that everything is fine. Now is our time.”
When Covid first struck, Chung quickly made adjustments to his business.
“It was the only way to survive,” she said.
When it reopened, it restarted shipments of its frozen dumplings to Goldbelly, a gourmet food delivery company. In the first week her orders tripled and she knew she was on to something. She has increased her offerings and now has a full-fledged store. She also started doing digital cooking demonstrations.
While trying to find solutions, she started chatting with other chefs in the area to exchange ideas.
“From those conversations I realized that many AAPI owners and chefs lack access to many of the things that restaurants and ‘senior’ chefs are used to, government grants and updated policies. to social media platforms to promote their business, ”said Chung, author of“ Chinese Heritage Cooking From My American Kitchen ”.
She began helping fellow AAPI business owners by sharing new policies and suggesting that they join the Independent Restaurant Coalition. She has also helped lesser-known restaurants access platforms like Goldbelly to increase their income, she said.
In March, Chung participated in the LA Food Gang’s fundraiser, Let’s Eat Together, which raised nearly $ 60,000 for struggling AAPI restaurants.
This Sunday, Chung will be part of a week-long event called Pop Off LA, in which select Los Angeles restaurants will collaborate on unique creations. A portion of the proceeds will go to the nonprofit Off Their Plate, which will then hire struggling Asian restaurants to cook meals for AAPI organizations.
Hope for the future
Chung is extremely optimistic about 2021. A blessing in disguise has been the changes she has made to her business and plans to keep going.
“There have been digital business innovations during the pandemic,” she said. “This live cooking experience via the internet is here to stay. “
The pandemic has also made her community more connected. Now, she hopes Asian Americans can become more visible. It means getting involved in politics and in mainstream media and pop culture.
“Representation matters,” Chung said.
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