On Tuesday, March 16, the evening a man shot and killed eight people—six of them Asian women—at three different metro Atlanta spas, Thip Athakhanh, owner of Laotian restaurant Snackboxe Bistro, and Mia Orino, of Filipino pop-up Kamayan ATL, were at dinner. “We came home, saw the news, and were shocked about what happened. We knew we had to do something,” says Athakhanh.
They discussed it with other Asian women business owners, including Tina Nguyen of Ba Bellies and Jiyeon Lee of Heirloom Market. And together, they came up with an idea for a grazing box that women chefs across Atlanta’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community could contribute to. The full proceeds from the box, which retailed for $75, are being donated to a fund through Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta that directly benefits the families of the spa shooting victims.
“We feel like this is actually in our backyard, in our home. We can’t just sit back and say that that’s okay,” Athakhanh says. “We all have personal lives, we all have jobs, but for [these chefs] to immediately stop what they’re doing to finalize details, it was a huge team effort. These women are amazing.”
The box included both sweet and savory snacks, including braised fish cakes from Korean Fusion, Chinese fried pork rinds from Sweet Auburn BBQ and Lazy Betty, gyeran mari (rolled egg) from Stone Bowl House, Vietnamese chicken salad from Nam Phuong, and Korean potato salad from Foodcation Forever. And within just three hours of launching the fundraiser, all 100 boxes were sold out, Athakhanh says. The team added 26 more boxes, which sold out in another hour.
While the grazing boxes are sold out, the group is also selling a t-shirt designed by graphic designer Sokai Yoon. On the front it says, “Love our people like you love our food” and on the back, “ATL loves you.” The first phrase was inspired by a protestor in New York. “I just felt it deep inside my bones,” says Athakhanh. The shirt retails for $25 and can be pre-ordered here through April 7.
Viv Lee, of Foodcation Forever, says she doesn’t feel comfortable participating in protests, so this fundraiser provided her with another opportunity to advance social justice. “The eight murders that took place on the 16th hit home. Four of the six Asian women that were killed were my own mother’s age and were Korean, which is my ethnicity,” she says. “This just made it so much more real and so much more personal. I wanted to help contribute to victims’ families. No amount of money could ever ease the pain of someone who’s lost a family member in a tragedy like this, but if there was one less bill they had to worry about, maybe that would ease some of the burden for a little while.”
AAPI are often presented as a monolith, Lee says, adding that she’s heard phrases like “I don’t like Asian food,” and “Isn’t all Asian food kind of similar?” on countless occasions. This fundraiser brings together 17 women from different parts of the AAPI community, and she hopes that more people see that it’s unfair to group all people of Asian descent together into a singular culture. “Food will always be an easy entry point into learning about a culture that may be unfamiliar. My hope is that, as people eat their way through their grazing box, they start to taste and see the different flavor profiles and techniques that each person has used to present their offering,” she says.
While there aren’t yet plans for another grazing box fundraiser, participant Monica Sunny, of the Chai Box, says that some companies have now expressed interest in sponsoring or donating meat to another fundraiser. So be sure to keep an eye out for future projects.
The grazing box wasn’t the only fundraiser in support of the city’s AAPI community held in Atlanta’s restaurant community this week—on Tuesday, 8Arm held a benefit in its parking lot, featuring stalls from local restaurants, breweries, and artists. Their proceeds went to Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.