Since the COVID-19 pandemic first reached the United States, there has been a national increase in violent crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Stop AAPI Hate reported at least 3,795 hate crimes since March of 2020. In September 2020, New York Police Department data showed a 1900% spike in violence against the AAPI community in New York City.
Eric Sze, the chef and owner of New York City Taiwanese restaurant 886, was prompted to ignite community conversation after seeing multiple videos of violent—even deadly—unprovoked attacks on elderly Asian Americans. Feeling frustrated with the silence from the public and the media in response to the repeated violence toward his community, he created the #EnoughIsEnough effort on February 12, 2021, the same day as the Lunar New Year.
Sze spearheads the grassroots initiative, which also consists of Asian American and Pacific Islander business owners who want to support their community, as well as promote cross-cultural community building. #EnoughIsEnough aims to raise awareness about the national surge in hate crimes against the AAPI community by donating free meals to those struggling with food insecurity. What started out as ten restaurants eventually grew to include twenty-two New York City AAPI-owned food businesses of diverse backgrounds, including Junzi, Fish Cheeks, Bessou and Nowon.
#EnoughIsEnough surpassed its initial fundraising goal of $25,000, ultimately raising just over $76,000 for the local New York City AAPI, Black and Latinx communities. During times of crisis, Sze emphasizes all underserved communities of color across New York City need priority, and that unity should never be lost.
I had the opportunity to speak with Sze about the success of #EnoughIsEnough, as well as what comes next.
What made you start #EnoughIsEnough?
It’s an initiative I started because I was frustrated with the silence around rising anti-Asian hate crimes. [It was in] February right after I heard about Vicha Ratanapakdee, the eighty-four-year-old man who passed away after being attacked. I knew people cared tremendously about the violence but weren’t vocal about it. I grew up in Taiwan where you grow up being conformist, learning to not cause trouble. I think that’s good in certain circumstances, but not now. I knew if we sparked group action, then people would help.
How did you feel about the escalating violence?
[The violence] is obviously uncalled for, to say the least. It’s scary that it’s hitting so close to home. I don’t know how I’m going to stop the crimes—I’m not a policeman. Ignorance exists, and I hope the way to fight that is to spread positivity. It’s sad that now our community needs safety walks because they don’t feel safe [walking] at night.
The entire purpose of [#EnoughIsEnough] was to get people to speak up. We’re all small restaurants stepping out of our comfort zone for the Asian American community.
How did the initiative start out?
[886 is] a small restaurant in the East Village of Manhattan. We’re a simple Taiwanese watering hole on St. Marks [Place] with homey food that’s good with drinking. [The initiative] initially started with ten restaurants of similar size and following, which then became twenty-two restaurants. We all felt passionate about creating a change. The idea was to bind together to create a bigger voice, unify for a stronger punch, and contribute to positive conversation.
How much did you raise? And who was involved?
We raised $76,000, and amongst all the restaurants that participated, we donated over 2,500 meals to the community. We gave $51,000 to individual local New York City charities including Heart of Dinner, Send Chinatown Love, and Welcome to Chinatown. We also supported Bowery Mission and St. James Church (in Elmhurst) serving the underserved.
We first started with a donation link with a virtual cooking class that we hosted last month. We take the money and donate it to Asian communities, especially vulnerable elders, as well as Latinx and Black communities and shelters. We spread the love and show that we care. No matter how small we are, we can all make a big difference together.
It was a real community effort. My business partner, Andy [Chuang], coordinated all the shelter drops. Sara [Schenkkan] and Betty [Liao] from Kitchen Rodeo helped out tremendously for our cooking dinner. Essex Pearl and Aquabest’s Steven [Wong] and Felicia [Loc] donated their location for the cooking class. Kevin [Liang] from Southeast Asia Market delivered meals with the trucks. And Sahra [Nguyen] and Erics [Kun] from Nguyen Coffee Supply really came through by helping with design.
The Asian community itself is so diverse. How did you come together for this initiative?
Yes, for example Fish Cheeks is Thai cuisine, Nowon is Korean, Bessou is Japanese,  is Taiwanese. The Asian community came together as a whole and brought something with their individual cuisine styles. I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to know these guys on a personal level, and it’s a lot easier to come together when you’re transparent.
Every restaurant made something different. For example, Nowon made juk (Korean porridge). Others made hot chicken sandwiches or fresh noodles. We made very diverse comfort food with very low sodium, and softer food for the elderly. We made more hearty food for the shelters.
What helped you as a restaurant survive the pandemic?
Heart, drive and luck. We’ve all worked harder in the last year than we’ve ever worked. Luck is such a big part of our survival. Things are not normal yet, but are on track and upwards. There’s always a community there and that’s what matters.
The beginning [of the pandemic] was tough because there was no end in sight and the government didn’t have any loans or financial support set up initially. We had to find a way to generate revenue for our staff. But now, my entire team has been fully vaccinated and I’m much more comfortable with indoor dining and hosting people indoors. We’re still careful because I can’t even imagine someone contracting the virus.
What’s next for #EnoughIsEnough?
We finished our first round and are no longer taking donations. More importantly, we started a conversation. We had twenty-two founding restaurants and we’re all brainstorming what to do next, and we hope other people can continue taking it from here.
To support the restaurants that participated in #EnoughIsEnough, find a list here.