It all began with a simple question. On one of Yuan Wonton‘s Penelope Wong’s routine visits to Ulster Street Pastry’s Carolyn Nugent, Nugent asked Wong how she was doing. “The floodgates just opened. I was taken aback. No one ever asks us if we are ok. Ever,” said Wong, revealing a lifetime of hardened stoicism in the face of adversity she sees amongst Asian communities across the United States. This was shortly after the horrendous shooting in Atlanta, a particularly egregious though not isolated incident that has been part of a rising tide of violence against Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) that has escalated over the past several years.
Wong herself has faced a fair amount of prejudice growing up here in Denver, noting that the increased violence has put an unspoken pressure on many Asian Americans whether they reveal it or not. “People have lived thinking they should just keep their head down,” she continued. Wong also remarked that the insidious nature of the ongoing terror has caused her to disguise herself in public as well as negatively affecting some services on her truck.
After their talk, Nugent and Wong contacted Annette‘s Caroline Glover and over the course of little more than an hour, the three devised a plan to galvanize the community in support of ending the violence. Better Together — a fundraising campaign featuring over 30 local chefs, restaurateurs, musicians and other businesses — was launched on May 7, with all the collected money being split between the AAPI Community Fund and The Asian American Foundation (TAAF). The involved parties include Uncle, Hop Alley, Pho King Rapidos, Temaki Den, Meta Asian Kitchen, Avanti, SMOK Barbecue, Restaurant Olivia, Miette et Chocolat, Ginger Pig, Frasca, The Lumineers, Nathaniel Rateliff, Base Coat Nail Salon, Bellota, Carerra’s Tacos, Not Yo Mama’s Cupcakes, Daughter Thai and many more.
Each participating business donated prizes — including gift cards, multi-course tasting menus and private classes — to be doled out across the month of May in three weekly drawings, culminating in a grand prize set to be selected at 11:59 p.m. on May 31. Individual prizes are revealed nightly on the Yuan Wonton Instagram. In order to enter, folks can comment on the group’s original Instagram post and help to spread the word. Donations are still encouraged.
After the launch, it only took a few days for the group to reach its initial goal of $10,000.
The trio has been shocked at the outpouring of support, noting that many of the contributors went well beyond sending over a simple gift card. Instead many have opted to provide special, one-of-a-kind experiences that were developed on the fly. “We’re coming out of a year and a half of the worst times the restaurant industry has ever had,” said Glover, clearly moved by the generosity displayed even in these austere times. In addition to the cash donations, all three organizers have said that the program’s development has opened up many conversations they don’t think they would have been able to have otherwise, with customers reaching out and opening up on a personal level.
While this might be the most ambitious project yet, the founders have consistently used their platform to support those in need, with Yuan Wonton having launched a robust program that assisted in getting food into the hands of overworked medical workers towards the beginning of quarantine. Since opening in 2017, Annette has frequently partnered with both Project Worthmore and DeLaney Community Farm. “We are a food business, but since day one we’ve always boasted community,” said Wong. “Politics inform our businesses,” added Glover, noting that each member has occasionally faced backlash when trying to express themselves past the point of cuisine.
Even with this particular fundraiser concluding at the end of the month, the trio has suggested that the collective philanthropy will continue in one way or another. “As long as the three of us are friends, we can continue to figure out how we can use our forces for good,” beamed Nugent.
Annette is located at 2501 Dallas St. STE 108, Aurora. It is open Wednesday – Saturday from 4:30 – 9 p.m., with brunch service on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Donations can be made at Better Together’s GoFundMe page.