June 1, 2021 By Christina Santucci
A new community-led organization plans to showcase the culinary offerings of Elmhurst with a takeout restaurant crawl around the neighborhood this weekend.
Attendees will have the opportunity to sample Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine at Saturday’s event, which is being organized by the newly-formed group Homecoming.
The group’s name plays on coming over for home cooking, said one of the organization’s founders Bryan Lozano.
“But mainly, I didn’t think there was a better way to represent home than through food. When I came up with the idea it felt like a long winter for the neighborhood, so we were excited with the idea of bringing people back to our homes,” he said.
Lozano, a first-generation Filipino American, teamed up with several other first- and second-generation Americans of diverse backgrounds as well as food lovers to start the group, which is in the process of applying to become a nonprofit.
During the restaurant crawl, ticket holders will receive specialty dishes packaged in a takeout container at each of the five participating restaurants – and can either opt to eat by the restaurant or take the food to go. The distance from start to finish is about a half mile.
Organizers will provide ticket holders with a “passport” card at the first location so that diners can receive their five dishes. Homecoming volunteers also plan to be on hand throughout the route to help attendees.
At the first stop, participants will receive Tahu Isi – stuffed tofu – and cendol – an iced sweet dessert – from Indo Java. Other dishes on the tour include pork and leek dumplings from Lao Bei Fang Dumpling House; a pork chop over rice from Taiwanese Gourmet; and homemade Roti Canai – crispy Indian style pancake served with curry chicken dipping sauce – from Coco Malaysian Cuisine
The last stop on the crawl – EIM Khao Mun Kai Elmhurst – will be dishing up Khao Mun Gai, or Thai chicken rice.
Homecoming is selling tickets for timed intervals from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. – and only 25 tickets are available for each one-hour slot. Thursday will be the last day to purchase tickets, Lozano said
Tickets to Saturday’s crawl cost $60 – with $15 of that amount going to pay for five meals at New Life Food & Clothing Pantry in Elmhurst.
Attendees can purchase a Homecoming-branded tote bag for an additional $20 – of which $15 would go to purchase an additional five meals for the pantry.
Organizers also plan to provide a number of tickets to frontline workers at Elmhurst Hospital, and the ticket price includes a 20 percent tip for each participating restaurant.
Lozano said he was eager to kick off the event in Elmhurst, and Homecoming’s founders hope to expand to other neighborhoods in the future.
He was raised in Elmhurst and moved back to the neighborhood in December, and sought to give back to the place that shaped his identity.
“I grew up playing mahjong and cricket in the park and eating all of this amazing food. I had this really privileged childhood,” he said.
Lozano pointed to how Elmhurst had been hit hard by the pandemic – but also noted how some community members have struggled well before COVID-19 struck.
The neighborhoods of Elmhurst and South Corona had among the highest percentage of people experiencing food hardship rates in the city – and the highest in Queens – according to Robin Hood’s Poverty Tracker report in 2019. Food hardship identifies those who run out of food or worry about running out of food throughout the year.
Elmhurst/South Corona also had the second highest percentage of restaurant workers in the city in 2018, according to U.S. Census data. When the pandemic hit, many restaurant workers lost their jobs or had their hours reduced.
Meanwhile, the neighborhoods of Elmhurst and South Corona were among the ones with the lowest percentages of restaurants and bars receiving COVID-related PPP loans, according to a 2020 report from the state comptroller’s office.
“We came up with a simple idea. Let’s do something tangible that we can see in our communities,” Lozano said.
Homecoming founders hope the crawl showcases Elmhurst’s restaurants and business owners – who “represent the spirit, culture and vibrancy of the neighborhood.”
“It’s not just about encouraging people to come here but it’s about building a relationship with the people behind the food. We want you to hear their stories,” Lozano said.
To do this, Homecoming is providing an audio guide of the participating restaurants through the app, Gesso, and featuring the videos of the eatery owners on Instagram.
“We founded Homecoming because for us, home isn’t just where you live, it’s the communities you’re from, the restaurants you support, and people you love,” the organization wrote on social media.
Event organizers are also planning garbage pickup so that trash isn’t left behind at each stop.
“As far as values go, we want to make sure that everything works, doesn’t create a nuisance and is supportive of the neighborhood in general,” Lozano said.
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