Amid COVID, Minor Saigon dining establishments keep cooking for no cost

The gentleman in the beanie cap and frayed sweater rolled up in his late-model SUV, leaning out the window on the driver’s facet.

“They instructed us to come right here for the foods. Is this the proper put?” Tan Nguyen requested as he surveyed the high faculty volunteer handing out sizzling lunches at the Recess Place cafe in Fountain Valley.

He and his wife, Susan Tran, dwell by yourself and are sheltering in Santa Ana. He’s 81, and Susan is 84. She’s fallen on her hip and has dizzy spells, so cooking is a challenge. But a company like Foods on Wheels is not an choice for them. They don’t take in macaroni or cream of mushroom soup preserved with plenty of sodium.

Nguyen and Tran eyed the packaged foods — fragrant porridge and rotisserie rooster — with hope. A couple minutes afterwards, a student who experienced been serenading the seniors with her violin as they waited in the cafe parking whole lot on a wintry Sunday put some sealed containers in their fingers. She talked to them about the foodstuff distribution program. Earlier mentioned their masks, the couple’s eyes imparted their thanks.

Though seniors in Orange County’s Vietnamese communities can obtain donations from regional foods pantries, “it’s not the very same style. They are used to fresh, common cooking that just is not obtainable with cans. This is the taste of home,” claimed Danny Tran, operator of Son Fish Sauce, which has provided 5 pallets of the condiment used in all method of Vietnamese cooking to the Recess Room.

“We have to have to nourish our elders, in particular at this time,” he explained. “They are the kinds whose sacrifices allow for us to be in this article. They want to be healthy.”

These organizations and the people who run them are element of an informal network feeding a community during an unprecedented crisis theirs are grassroots attempts that may possibly not have attracted significantly interest. Below are some of their tales.


When would-be tourists study the background of the Orange County cultural district named Very little Saigon, climbing in the middle of once blooming citrus groves and strawberry fields, they likely aren’t encountering reviews on the Recess Room, a person of its newer hotspots. But in the shutdown sparked by COVID-19, the hip, Asian-infused eatery has remodeled into the enclave’s “most generous” cafe with charity operations managed “with the precision of an accountant,” in accordance to locals on Facebook.

Viet Pham, Kim Phuong Huynh, Linh Pham and Kim Huynh prepare meals

From still left, Viet Pham, Kim Phuong Huynh, Linh Pham and Kim Huynh put together meals for senior citizens and people in want in the kitchen area of their family’s Fountain Valley cafe, the Recess Area.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Periods)

Every single other Sunday, a group of youthful volunteers arrives by breakfast time. They tackle prep perform, installing pop-up canopies outdoors the former Coco’s, just after proprietor Viet Pham, his mom and older sister have unloaded groceries and started rinsing, chopping, slicing, steaming and frying. The spouse and children purchases 300 kilos of rice for every week, on top rated of meat and deliver and a few conditions of takeout bags.

“Any time you cook for 500 it is powerful. It can take 8 to 10 hours, relying on how major your pots are,” Pham said.

His family members has teamed with Relocating Forward Jointly, a local community coalition, combining their individual cash with personal donations from sources these kinds of as Sysco and Cafe Depot, to give approximately 60,000 free of charge foods considering that the world wide pandemic started very last March. The monthly bill for just about every giveaway ranges from $5,000 to $6,000.

Organizers get the phrase out via social media or immediate referrals. They attempt “never to change people today who genuinely will need it” absent. In the meantime, the Recess Home has remained open up for takeout and shipping.

“There’s no question we want to give again,” explained Huong Pham, motioning to her brother when wiping her herb-flecked palms on a dish towel. “It’s the only point we can do to truly feel far better due to the fact normally, we come to feel so helpless.”

“We’re offering an possibility for persons to take pleasure in a cafe-cooked meal,” Viet Pham added. “We make certain not to cut corners we give a little something we would take in ourselves.”


Just about every thirty day period, hundreds of 5-liter jugs of umami-laced sauce make their way — for free of charge — to spot eating places and low-cash flow households. The donors are Danny Tran and his spouse, Albee, cofounder and CEO, respectively, of Son Fish Sauce, which is produced on small Hon Son Island in the Gulf of Thailand and is a staple in all Vietnamese kitchens. (The business has 13 warehouses in the United States.)

Albee Tran comes about to be the wonderful-granddaughter of Khon Van Pham, a famous fish sauce maker. And with all the day by day stressors to keep nourished, the couple want to make confident that property cooks and chefs have to have not fear about supply.

“I inform individuals that you really do not have to use our item afterwards on. We did not want this to be some kind of advertisement. We observed that several minority communities are having assist by the authorities — but not the Bolsa [Avenue] community,” Danny Tran included, alluding to Tiny Saigon’s key thoroughfare. “We need to have to build ourselves up.”

Albee and Danny Tran, CEO and cofounder, respectively, of Son Fish Sauce

Albee and Danny Tran, CEO and cofounder, respectively, of Son Fish Sauce provide hundreds of jugs of their staple — a Vietnamese kitchen area staple — to place eating places and lower-income homes.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Once in a when, Tran squeezes in deliveries of donated masks together with the nuoc mam to assist people today in “staying coated.” He also sponsors a Vietnamese household cooking group with just about 10,000 associates organized by way of social media. “When we get a phone for items, we generally react.”

“It’s a simple offering — and we are grateful,” said Hang Ngo, a grandmother of a few who acquired 10 bottles to share with her sons in Halfway Metropolis and Fullerton. “We cannot cook or dip anything at all we cook with no this savory sauce.”


Uniting by means of the goodness of food reminds Thuy Vo Dang of Vietnamese refugees, new to the United States, who began forming mutual guidance associations in the 1970s and ‘80s to assistance with resettlement. The groups promoted household self-sufficiency together with empowering communities and “that spirit of mobilizing, stepping up for all those who couldn’t navigate for them selves, that definitely emerged in this crisis minute,” stated Dang, the curator of UCI’s Southeast Asian Archive.

She mentioned she’s “not at all surprised that 1 of the a lot more good and heartwarming things to arrive out of the pandemic is this heading all alongside one another. Language and lifestyle have a way of bringing people to the desk.”

Last spring, months just after the Earth Wellness Corporation considered the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a pandemic, Sister Thuy Tran, a Catholic nun assigned to the mission integration office at Mission Healthcare facility in Mission Viejo, commenced accumulating dry goods. Rice. Ramen. Hand sanitizer. Seaweed. She understood the Vietnamese community essential to spend interest to its seniors mainly because “clearly, they’re the most isolated, most vulnerable.” She sought reinforcement from her sister, the chef/operator of the acclaimed restaurant Garlic & Chives, with locations in Artesia and Backyard garden Grove.

Kristin Nguyen leaped into motion, paying out lots of Thursdays in the cafe kitchen stirring up incredibly hot meals with teriyaki salmon, garlicky rice and noodles, then portioning them for her sibling to select up and produce to residents of convalescent homes, along with 1st responders. She covered each individual week’s prices, about $10,000 through the months.

“Listen, these are the people whose family members simply cannot pay a visit to, not just for a quick time but a prolonged time. They have no relationship to a thing familiar, and they need to have to try to eat healthy. We delivered that,” Nguyen mentioned, all the while presenting Garlic & Chives takeout and struggling to maintain her firms and personnel afloat.

Nhi Huynh, Huong Pham, Kim Huynh and Viet Pham, stand with about 600 Han Vi meals

From left, Nhi Huynh, Huong Pham, Kim Huynh and Viet Pham, stand with about 600 Han Vi foods to be distributed to senior citizens and men and women in want at their family’s Fountain Valley restaurant, the Recess Area.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Occasions)

Later in the yr, Tran and local community activist Katie Nguyen Kalvoda, cofounders of the nonprofit Advance OC, served to increase in excess of $100,000 to dish up more than 4,000 meals shipped on two Saturdays for the duration of the vacations, with an guide from Garlic & Chives and 24 other dining places, amid them Minor Saigon’s Song Very long and Pholicious.

“This operate really speaks to the electricity and enthusiasm of the people,” Tran stated. “We experienced far more than 900 — indeed, 900 — volunteers indication up to supply food stuff. They are so amazing.”


As Tan Nguyen drove absent from the takeout lane at the Recess Space, Paul Hoang, a volunteer at the function, waved goodbye. It wasn’t his initial practical experience with feeding the group. Just about a yr in the past, Hoang, a medical social employee, opened his wallet to pay for damaged rice and meat meals for up to 85 seniors who’d been remaining scrambling by the danger of the virus in Very little Saigon.

In April, Hoang released Relocating Forward Alongside one another, a nonprofit spin-off of his consulting agency, Relocating Ahead Psychological Institute, Inc., in Fountain Valley, to aid feed the needy and provide them social and psychological wellness sources. “At various moments, we get 5- or 6- or 700 people asking for assist, and what are we meant to do?” he asked. “I had to call in youth groups and activist groups and food providers to lend a hand. Some of them, we have under no circumstances fulfilled, nevertheless they quickly claimed of course. People’s wellness is at possibility.”

Pham, the restaurateur, stated he tends to make certain all volunteers, like Hoang, go away very well-fed. The two adult males tapped on their mobile phone calendars, quietly planning logistics for a further weekend as the battered Hondas and minivans surged forward with travellers eager for sustenance.

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