ChuMinh Tofu Deli serves free meals at Little Saigon in Seattle on Sundays

Since opening all vegan Tofu ChuMinh deli in Little Saigon in 2011, Chef Tanya Nguyen has carved a place for herself in Seattle’s pantheon of plant-based restaurants. In addition to its plentiful selection of soy curries, banh mi, pho, noodle dishes and buffet, ChuMinh is also drawing attention for its free Sunday lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday meal is made possible with the help from a group of dedicated volunteers who call themselves “egg rolls,” a nod to ChuMinh’s popular side dish.

For Nguyen, serving free food to those in need is a “dream come true”; she is grateful to her clients, volunteers and homeless neighbors. “They have wonderful hearts,” she said. “Just by talking to them, I can feel it, how grateful and beautiful their hearts are and how much love they have for others. “

Volunteers – longtime clients and friends, service activists and neighbors – arrive around 10 a.m. on Sunday, set up a folding table under the restaurant’s awning, and set up a food station with options like rice, curry, etc. vegetable dishes, and, of course, Nguyen’s popular vegan spring rolls served hot. As the pandemic began in 2020, the Egg Rolls reinforced their commitment to helping homeless people in Little Saigon, distributing donated items like socks, disinfectant, blankets and other survival supplies, as well as the Sunday meal. The additional aid arrived around the same time as the city swept away the homeless camps in the region in April and May 2020, despite the city’s promise to suspend sweeps during the pandemic.

Members of the Egg Rolls volunteer group distribute free food at ChuMinh Tofu deli in Little Saigon.
Suzi pratt

Volunteer Nathan Bombardier said a dedicated effort to feed those in need began about three years ago, with only “Tanya, two family friends and her husband. In a few months, regular customers got involved.

In early 2020, the group began to coordinate through a group chat, a “call for eggs,” says John Bartlett, a long-time client who volunteered last year; throughout the pandemic, the number of volunteers grew to over 50. Bartlett, who also participated in community spring clean-up events in the International District of Chinatown, said, “Tanya has been doing this for years… he’s someone who really does it out of the goodness of his heart.

The collaboration with the volunteers was done organically. Regular customers understood Nguyen’s generosity and volunteered to help. “They started asking us if we needed volunteers,” she recalls. “Do you need help with this? “Oh, yeah,” I say of course. “

Volunteers serve egg rolls and cups of stew to people.

Volunteers distribute free food outside the ChuMinh Tofu deli in Little Saigon.
Suzi pratt

From the start, Nguyen made it a point to never refuse anyone who asked for free food, as long as the busy pace of the deli allowed. In fact, what Nguyen considers the success of his restaurant is having the ability to feed those in need. It goes back to a story she read as a child about a successful woman who, because she had more than enough, started cooking and feeding those in need. The story had a lasting impact on Nguyen’s generosity. “I think that’s one of the reasons [I give to others]. Deep down I still remember that story, ”she said.

Even though ChuMinh’s Sunday meals have received more attention in local news, Nguyen still does not accept any direct donations for the food she prepares and gives. The Egg Rolls accept donations through Venmo (@TheEggrolls with note “donation”) which helps purchase take-out boxes, masks, sanitizer, socks and toiletries, and provides reimbursement for food worker permits $ 10 from volunteers. Donations like blankets, winter coats or other supplies are best dropped off in a grocery store or a heavy-duty trash bag labeled “for Egg Rolls” during Sunday lunch. “We need travel-sized toiletries, new socks and underwear, and reusable bags or backpacks,” said volunteer Chloe Huber.

The Egg Rolls plan to create a separate community meal fund. “Right now, guests who come during the week to ask for food that Tanya usually serves for free,” Huber explained. This floating meal fund would help cover the cost of someone needing food during the week, paying for trips to the ChuMinh buffet – a seemingly bottomless feast with rice, steamed vegetables, Mongolian tofu. , curry and sesame balls.

For now, Nguyen is trying to give egg rolls to as many people as she can. “We welcome everyone,” she said.

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