Beverly Kim had ideas simmering during the pandemic. Between former President Donald Trump’s anti-Asian tweets about the “Chinese virus” and the growing attacks on Asian elders, she knew she had to do something. But Kim, an award-winning chef and restaurateur, just wasn’t sure what.
On March 23, a Korean woman living in her parents’ retirement community received a threatening racist letter as she grieved the death of her husband. Kim shared a photo of the letter on Instagram, condemning the “evil virus of hate in our country.” Three days later, eight people — six of them Asian women — were killed in the Atlanta spa shootings. At the time, officials explained that the shooter “had a bad day,” avoiding labeling the incident a hate crime, incensing many Asian Americans across the country, Kim included.
“When the Georgia massacre happened it was an explosion of emotions for all of us,” said Kim, owner of Parachute and Wherewithall in Avondale. “It was not like one of those times where you do business as usual and wait until May to do something about it.”
Restaurants are a good way to spread news and awareness fast, so Kim called up her friend Andy Kang, executive director of the Chicago chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), and began to plan a fundraiser — participating restaurants would donate proceeds from a dough-related item to AAAJ. Her friend Cam Waron, owner of Tuber’s Donuts who also works at Honey Butter Fried Chicken, came up with the name Dough Something, and local artist Kiyomi Negi-Tran created the artwork that popped up everywhere you looked on Chicago food Instagram pages. Soon, it became a multi-city effort.
“(Guests) appreciate it because they feel like they’re part of the solution, and also it helps unite a lot of the restaurants who feel like they don’t have or can’t do anything about it or feel helpless,” Kim said.
Nearly 100 restaurants are participating in Dough Something, and the campaign raised $19,223 just in the month of April. It has been so successful and has garnered so much interest that Kim decided to extend it through the month of May, adding new restaurants along the way.
“It’s just a really easy thing to catch on and repeat and implement,” Kim said. “Every restaurant has something with a dough.”
A big part of the campaign is education, like a bystander intervention training program coupled with a course in Asian American history, which is free for participating restaurants. A happy hour panel on May 24 features a coast-to-coast lineup of influential chefs like Nyesha Arrington (Top Chef, Native, Leona), Erik Bruner-Yang (Foreign National, Brothers & Sisters, Cafe Spoken), Brandon Jew (Mister Jiu’s) and Preeti Mistry (Juhu Beach Club), and is moderated by Monica Eng (Chewing, WBEZ). Panelists will share personal stories and discuss the role of food in combating racism and ticket sales will go toward Dough Something.
“We’re all in this together,” Kim said.
Dough Something was not Kim’s first time raising awareness and funds. Just last year, she launched a nonprofit called The Abundance Setting, which aims to help working parents in the culinary industry. Her friend and Abundance Setting co-founder, Sarah Stegner, was one of the first to join the Dough Something campaign, donating 50% of proceeds from the chocolate chip cookies at Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook. Stegner’s husband is Indian and they have a biracial daughter, so participating in Dough Something hit close to home for her.
“Now is a huge opportunity for change,” Stegner said. “People’s lives have been disrupted and things are different. And now if we step forward, it can make an intense impact, a ripple effect.”
In May, Stegner teamed up with Marie Aregoni of Saigon Sisters for a joint take-home, four-course dinner for two with 30% of proceeds going toward AAAJ as part of Dough Something. The menu featured items like beef dumplings in pho broth, Parmesan-crusted crispy chicken banh mi featuring in-season vegetables from Green City Market farmers, bo luc lac beef tenderloin and hoisin-glazed pork belly. For dessert, the dinner had chocolate pudding pie with pecans and freshly-grated coconut and chocolate chip cookies.
Being part of Dough Something not only means acknowledging the effects of anti-Asian sentiment, but also creating space for people to listen and empathize, Stegner said. Even at home, she prioritizes listening to her daughter and her husband’s experiences.
“It’s easy to dismiss things that might be considered prejudices or slights or things that put you down and marginalize you,” Stegner said. “You can’t do that. You need to hear what they’re saying and talk it through with them and not ignore it.”
Stegner hopes raising awareness creates a culture of unity within the restaurant industry to step up and help where they can.
“They may seem like little things that we can do, but those little things add up into huge change,” Stegner said. “I do feel that because the industry is struggling and is looking for change, we’re also looking at things that are difficult within the industry and to try to find solutions and try to make it better.”
For David Yoo, owner of 10qChicken in Evanston, this was the first time he’s participated in something that could be viewed as political. But to him, it was just the “right thing to do.” As an Asian American growing up in the north suburbs of Chicago, Yoo is familiar with racist slurs and incidents. Reading and watching stories about growing anti-Asian sentiment and violence reignited that anger, which he channeled into action.
“As a restaurant, there’s always that fear that if you take too strong of a stance, people might get offended or they might take it the wrong way, but I don’t know how you can think this is okay, regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum,” Yoo said.
Not only is raising funds important, but keeping the momentum and energy going is equally crucial, Yoo said. He plans to participate in Dough Something for as long as it runs.
Engaging in a monetary fundraiser after bearing the decimating effects of the pandemic may seem financially unwise to some. However, Stegner said the way Dough Something was set up encouraged restaurants to participate as little or as much as they were comfortable with.
“The Chicago restaurant industry obviously is in crisis and many of the chefs behind the scenes have gotten together to talk about what’s working and what’s not working and how do we change and how do we make it better,” Stegner said. “(Dough Something) is something that has risen out of those conversations and Beverly is in the pulse of a lot of this.”
The restaurant industry, mirroring the nation at large, is having a racial reckoning, Kim said, and this campaign is just part of the many facets that need to be addressed. She especially hopes people participating in Dough Something will learn the perils of the model minority myth, or the idea rooted in harmful stereotypes that Asians are a successful and high-achieving monolith. In reality, the Asian American experience is diverse, with one of the widest income gaps and many groups still mired in poverty. The model minority myth also paints Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners, pitting them against other marginalized groups, especially Black Americans.
“We’re acknowledging that it was a myth and that it was a way of us being separate from other groups instead of fighting for the same things,” Kim said.
Yoo said he’s moved by non-Asian people and restaurants who have also come on board. While some participants have friends or family who are Asian, others recognize the need to present a united front against racism, regardless of any personal connections, Stegner said. There’s still so much Kim is learning about Asian American history and she hopes this moment will allow people to feel the sadness of the past, but also learn from it and move them into action.
“Injustice against any group is injustice everywhere,” Kim said. “It’s been really beautiful and really healing to see every heritage come together to fight the Asian hate and to see people standing up … there is hope for us to overcome this hate which is the virus and I think this is where we need to start.”
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Grace Wong is an award-winning journalist covering the city of Chicago. After graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in Print and Digital Journalism, she wrote for a number of California publications before returning to the Midwest in 2015. She was most recently a Food & Dining reporter with the Chicago Tribune and has also served in leadership positions in journalism organizations like the Chicago Headline Club and the Chicago chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association.