During the COVID-19 pandemic, takeout food has come to feel like an essential rather than a luxury.
Of course, if your best-loved dining spot isn’t close to where you live, that generally puts the kibosh on a delivery… Unless there happens to be a generous chef who’s willing to go the extra miles—roughly 530 of them—to ensure a loyal customer gets to enjoy her favorite meal one more time.
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When Baltimore restaurant owner Steve Chu learned one of his longtime patrons (whose name is being withheld for reasons of privacy) was losing her battle with cancer, rather than share the recipe for her go-to dish per son-in-law’s Brandon Jones’ request, the chef offered instead to make the six-hour drive to Vermont to cook it for her in person.
The woman’s daughter, Rina, knows just how much the tempura broccoli from Chu’s Asian-Fusion restaurant Ekiben means to her mom. Even though her mom was teasing, the 72-year-old made sure to put in her takeout order for Rina and Brandon’s upcoming visit.
“She always told us, ‘When I’m on my death bed, I want to have that broccoli,’” Rina said in an interview with The Washington Post. “In fact, when I was packing on Friday to drive up to Vermont, I called my mom to see if she wanted us to bring anything special and she jokingly said, ‘tempura broccoli!’”
After confirming his plans with Rina and Brandon, Chu provisioned his pickup truck, and with business partner Ephrem Abebe and restaurant worker Joe Anonuevo in tow, the three men made the trek to Vermont. The next morning, Chu and his crew bivouacked in the parking lot of his unsuspecting patron’s condo, where they proceeded to fire up the grill, and get cooking.
When the woman opened her door and saw Chu’s familiar figure standing there with a takeout order, she could hardly believe her eyes. It was almost impossible for her to fathom that he’d be willing to travel from Baltimore to Vermont just to cook her a meal.
But for Chu, the gesture didn’t seem far-fetched at all. Unlike many other restaurants, thanks to its devoted clientele, Ekiben was able to ride out the pandemic with relative ease. Knowing how lucky he was, Chu felt it was only right to pay back some of the kindness he’d been so fortunate to receive.
Chu recognized his longtime customer the minute he set eyes on her as well. While patrons come and go, he says she’d made a lasting impression, not only in the way she enjoyed his cooking but in always making a point of praising the cuisine to his restaurant staff.
Their mission accomplished, Chu and his crew turned down an offer to stay for dinner and headed back to Baltimore—also refusing to take any payment for their time and trouble. Rina Jones reported Chu’s generosity left her and her mom with tears of gratitude—and enough leftovers to stand them to lunch the following day.
After a thankful Brandon Jones reported the events to Facebook his post was deluged with thousands of likes, including one from Baltimore City Council member Zeke Cohen who said: “I always point to Ekiben as a business that always models respect for community and treats people with love. Plus their food is amazing! Read this, eat their tofu nuggets and try not to cry!”
While Chu says he’s enjoying an uptick in business since the details of the long-distance delivery became known, his reason for reaching out had nothing to do with grabbing glory.
“She’s a lovely lady, who has showered us with love at our restaurant for years,” he told The Washington Post, adding it was an honor to help fulfill the family’s wishes. “It was a powerful experience, and I’m happy that we could make it happen.”
And that’s the best takeaway we’ve had in ages.
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