The Making of a Charitable Food Movement

Mission Street Food began as a kind of accident, which gathered momentum as it evolved from a food truck into a pop-up and then Mission Chinese Food and now even an outpost in New York.

A few years later, we’re hoping that another half-baked idea can pick up steam and become something real and lasting, but this time the goal is not just a charitable restaurant but a full-fledged charitable food movement. We will need help to make it happen, just like last time, but we hope you will feel as excited by the potential as we do.

First a bit of background: a few months ago, we started talking with The Kitchen Sisters, who produce radio for KQED, about a big event they are curating at SFMOMA. The theme is “The Making Of…” and they’re bringing more than a hundred local artists and artisans to do what they love to do—from making hats to building furniture out of mushrooms—right in the middle of the museum. We wondered what we could do, and as we daydreamed, we came upon the idea of “The Making of a Charitable Food Movement,” which would be a participatory exhibit in which museumgoers would help us build a new food culture on the spot.

So here’s what we have planned: On Friday May 31st, as part of the “Making Of…” exhibit at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, hosted by acclaimed radio producers, The Kitchen Sisters, we’re putting together an event called “The Making of a Charitable Restaurant Movement.” The idea is to demonstrate a robust public interest in making food more meaningful by giving back.

More than forty of the city’s most respected restaurants will sell $50 gift certificates, of which $5 will fund meals for people in need; gift certificates will be available for purchase May 31 from 10am to 6pm at the museum and online.

At the museum, chefs from Bar Tartine, La Cocina, Mission Chinese Food, Stag Dining Group, Tacolicious and Wise Sons Deli will serve snacks for $5 apiece, of which $1 will be donated to The Food Bank. The event will also feature cooking demonstrations by Chad Robertson (Tartine Bakery), Thomas McNaughton (Flour + Water), Jason Fox (Commonwealth), Ryan Pollnow (Central Kitchen) and Jesse Koide (Mission Chinese Food).

For every dollar raised by this event, The Food Bank will be able to provide three meals for hungry people in the Bay Area—and the need has been rising in the last few years.

We’re launching a new entity, called ShareTable.org, which is a philanthropic platform created for this event, but if enough money is raised to feed 50,000 people, we will expand the endeavor into an ongoing accelerator helping restaurants to benefit their communities.

For us, this feels like a bit of a return to the old days of Mission Street Food, when we invited guest chefs to join us in the kitchen and asked customers to bear with our occasional mis-steps for the sake of giving back to our communities. We are even returning here, to our old blog, where we used to announce our latest scheme, from “Mexiterranean” night to “2011: A Seafood Odyssey.” Now we are asking for you to get involved again, whether that means eating charitable snacks at the museum on May 31, or buying gift certificates at the event or online, or just helping us spread the word to get ShareTable.org off the ground. This is, by definition, a community effort, and we hope you will join in.

* * *

Full list of participants: Ame, Atelier Crenn, Bar Agricole, Bar Tartine, Benu, BiRite Market, Boulevard, Café Des Amis, Camino, Central Kitchen, Coi, Commis, Commonwealth, Cotogna, Delfina, Fifth Floor, Flour + Water, Foreign Cinema, Frances, Jardiniere, Locanda, Marlowe, Michael Mina, Mission Bowling Club, Mission Chinese Food, Nopa, Park Tavern, Perbacco, Pizzeria Delfina, Prospect, Quince, Rich Table, RN74, Saison, Salumeria, Sons & Daughters, Spruce, State Bird Provisions, St. Vincent, Tacolicious, Tartine Bakery, Wise Sons Deli, Zuni Café.


The Ideal Restaurant?

I left the San Francisco Food Bank yesterday full of hope—we may be able to build a truly charitable restaurant, which would serve amazing food and turn all its profits toward feeding the hungry—but we need your vote to get started.

Here's my pitch:

For the last two years, Mission Chinese Food has been raising money for the Food Bank: more than $125,000 so far. But we could do even more. I’ve been sketching plans to serve food inside the Food Bank itself, in their warehouse, as a kind of a hybrid between restaurant and fundraiser. The warehouse is pretty exhilarating to behold with immense skylights and massive aisles of produce and 2,000-pound bags of rice being mobilized for distribution across the city. There’s a space in the middle that clears out around 6pm each day and could probably fit a kitchen on wheels and about 20 seats, and though it’s just a swath of concrete in a warehouse, I think it could be home to an extraordinary restaurant.

Apart from the dramatic setting and the idealistic nature of the establishment, I think it would also be able to transcend conventional restaurant economics and offer unparalleled value by way of non-profit partnership. Diners could make a donation beforehand to secure a reservation, then reap the benefits of subsidized food and labor, and the absence of tax and gratuity. Meanwhile, the Food Bank would use its savings on food, labor and overhead—all of which could generate over $1000 per night to feed those in need. It’s a win-win.

At this point, it’s still just a dream because there would be many hurdles—approval from the board of directors, legal permits, finding the right chef, and all the other challenges that every new restaurant faces. Nevertheless, We're applying for a small business grant from Mission: Small Business to try to make this dream a reality. We need your vote to make it to the next round of consideration.

If you are a supporter of Mission Street Food, Mission Burger, Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth Restaurant and/or Mission Bowling Club, please log on to Mission: Small business and vote for us. Regrettably, the site requires you to log in and then to search "Mission Chinese Food." Note: this is a Mission Street Food project, and is not related to Mission Chinese Food, but the application process was clunky, not very clear and, as it turns out, uneditable. So please help us get this grant by searching for "Mission Chinese Food," and encourage your friends to do the same.

Thanks in advance,

Anthony Myint


What do you get if you cross Ping Pong with Bowling?

Or rather, what if the world's two greatest sports went on a date to an open-bar party?

Find out this weekend, when Mission Bowling Club will be previewing a few items from its forthcoming menu and American Tripps will be organizing Berlin-style ping pong at the Noise Pop Pop-Up Shop on Friday (2/10) and Saturday (2/11). At the Bold Italic (34 Page Street); festivities begin at 6pm. $5 cover.


Friday 2/10

Mission Burger
granulated patty, caramelized onion, monterey jack, caper aioli

CA Spring Roll
fresh peas, radishes, cocoa butter, rice, nori,

roasted Cauliflower, pickled apple, edamame, eggplant

Buttermilk Pannacotta
chamomile brittle, spring herbs, mint oil


Jerk Pork Shoulder
smoked, with black beans, sour cream, plantain flatbread

Vegan Sandwich
chickpea, kale & shitake fritter, topped with fennel and spicy avocado

CA Spring Roll
fresh peas, radishes, cocoa butter, rice, nori

mascarpone stuffed baba with espresso bubbles


Food Politics

We wrote a book about food. It’s more about the taste of food than the politics of food, but the process made us think hard about our values, and we decided to donate a portion of our book sales to food activism. We still believe in the importance of consumer choices, like buying locally, but food policy in this country is so messed up that we need a more direct and systemic approach--especially now, when Congress is preparing to work on the 2012 Farm Bill, which will affect the way we eat as a nation for years to come. We need to put our money where our mouths are, literally.

Together with our publisher, McSweeney’s, we’ve worked out an arrangement to benefit Slow Food USA in their campaign to make the next Farm Bill feed our nation, and not just the bank accounts of agribusiness. For every pre-sale purchase of our book through the McSweeney’s online store, a $10 donation will go to Slow Food USA. Copies purchased later or from other booksellers will result in a smaller donation.

And by the way, our book is called Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant and it will come out this summer. Here’s a description from McSweeney’s:

Mission Street Food is a restaurant. But it’s also a charitable organization, a taco truck, a burger stand, and a clubhouse for inventive cooks tucked inside an unassuming Chinese take-out place. In all its various incarnations, it upends traditional restaurant conventions, in search of moral and culinary satisfaction.

Like Mission Street Food itself, this book is more than one thing: it’s a cookbook featuring step-by-step photography and sly commentary, but it’s also the memoir of a madcap project that redefined the authors’ marriage and a city’s food scene. Along with stories and recipes, you’ll find an idealistic business plan, a cheeky manifesto, and thoughtful essays on issues ranging from food pantries to fried chicken. Plus, a comic.

Ultimately, Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant presents an iconoclastic vision of cooking and eating in twenty-first century America.

***THIS IS A PREORDER. If you order now, your book will ship in late July, and a full $10 of your purchase will be donated to Slow Food USA.)***


New Hours at Mission Chinese Food

In an effort to maintain quality and consistency, the staff at Mission Chinese Food and Lung Shan have made a joint decision to adjust our operating hours. The new hours will go into effect starting Monday (January 10th).

Open 11:30am to 10:30pm
Closed Wednesday

We will also no longer take reservations, though we encourage you to call if your party is larger than 4 people so we can best accommodate you. There is no wait during off-peak hours and during peak hours the wait time is typically no more than 20 minutes.

We just don't have an English speaking reservationist or hostess and are sick of making people wait outside while other people are late for their reservation, then get mad at us when there's no table for them--which happens enough to necessitate a policy change.

Thanks for your support.

photo courtesy of Nathan Hazzard



I was recently the winner of an award given by Eater.com for the “Empire Builder of the Year, San Francisco.” I know it's just an internet award, but I'd still like to take this opportunity to thank everyone with whom I’ve worked over the last couple years—guest chefs, cooks, servers and especially the staff of Mission Street Food whose good intentions were as important as mine. Copious thanks are due to investors and kickstarters in Commonwealth and general supporters of benevolent business.

Specific credit should go to Jason Fox, Ian Muntzert, Xelina Leyba and the Commonwealth team, and to Danny Bowien, the Mission Chinese Food staff and the owners of Lung Shan, though I am happy to accept on everyone's behalf as kind of the den mother/crazy uncle of the two operations.

Special thanks to my wife Karen Leibowitz without whose love, support and expertise, none of this would have been possible.


The Proverbial Dragon in the Room...or Webathon as Community Building/Art Installation

I recently received an envelope depicting a child with a disfigured face. It said something like, “donate and we’ll stop sending you images like these.” As noble as cleft palate surgeries are (literally enabling children to smile), that kind of guilt trip is unconscionable and just makes me want to ignore the problems in the world.

I’m fundraising to purchase a sixty-foot-long cloth dragon costume/chandelier. On the surface it’s highly frivolous, but the dragon represents the opposite tack: the solicitous equivalent to positive reinforcement. “Chip in a few bucks and you get to see this thing.” As our business increases, it was worth its price in charity. Even though the vast majority of worldly problems will have gone unaddressed, unlike the elephant in the room, we’ll have done something—created a mascot for optimism.

Like Christo’s The Gates in Central Park, this dragon can be a memorable gesture that enriches the texure of a city. Well okay a city block, but without using 10 million pounds of steel, 1 million square feet of nylon and 900 workers. As we approach the goal, I can’t help but feel a sense of excitement for the tangible evidence of community building—sort of an urban barn-raising in the age of Twitter.

Besides, how often do you get a chance to buy a dragon?