As businesses across DC posted darkened squares on social media to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and #BlackOutTuesday, Emilie’s chef/owner Kevin Tien took an alternative course of action.
“A lot of people have been doing a lot of reflecting. I’m not one to say a lot, but I’ve always been a person to do things,” says Tien. So, he donated $12,000 of his personal funds to three racial justice organizations. “I looked at however much money I had—what is the max I can donate without putting myself in financial ruin? It was $12,000.”
Tien, a chef of Vietnamese descent, grew up in a mixed-race family in Louisiana with an African American stepfather and brother. The 31-year-old has often used his position as James Beard-nominated chef in the national culinary spotlight to highlight inequalities within the restaurant industry, instituting a “wellness charge” to support employee health benefits at his fast-casual sandwich joint, Hot Lola’s, and hiring a diverse team at Emilie’s. Now he’s joining a growing number of DC-area business owners supporting the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
“I grew up poor, and I grew up in an urban area,” says Tien, who says he has no memory of his biological father. “When my mom remarried, it wasn’t even racism from the outside. We were being judged within our own family. Even me dating another Asian person who wasn’t Vietnamese was a big thing for my [biological] grandmother. My grandma disowned all of us, and that’s wrong. Now I want to help in any way I can.”
After donating, Tien put an offer on the table—and social media: any individual, corporation, or group that matches his donation of $4,000 each to Colors of Change, Black Lives Matter DC, and Black Vision Collection will be treated to a party at Emilie’s for up to 40 people. He’s also running a lower-stakes raffle out of Emilie’s, selling $5 tickets whose proceeds will all be donated (the winner will be announced on Sunday, June 7). His team at Emilie’s is planning to prepare free meals for demonstrators on Saturday, June 6 when a massive DC demonstration—some say on par with the 2017 Women’s March—is slated to occur.
I’m just going to head down to the main area where people are congregating—there’s not a lot of planning,” says Tien. “You just go, do, make it happen.”