Steve Chu, co-owner of Baltimore Asian-fusion restaurant, Ekiben, saw thousands of people across the two restaurant locations pre-pandemic. The business started small—six years ago, three college-friends opened a stand on the streets of Baltimore that gained a loyal following.
Rina Jones’ 72-year-old mother (whose name is withheld for privacy) is one of those loyal customers. Every time she visited Jones and her husband, Brandon, one of the first places she wanted to go was Ekiben in Fells Point to order her favorite tempura broccoli.
Ekiben co-owners Steve Chu and Ephrem Abebe. Credit: Tadias Magazine.
“She had always told us, ‘When I’m on my death bed, I want to have that broccoli,’” Rina Jones, says. “In fact, when I was packing on Friday to drive up to Vermont, I called my mom to see if she wanted us to bring anything special and she jokingly said, ‘tempura broccoli!’”
Unfortunately, Jones’ mother hasn’t been able enjoy her favorite dish in quite some time. She was diagnosed with the final stages of lung cancer in December and has made the decision to stop treatment. What’s worse, the global pandemic that took over the entirety of 2020 made travel a no-go and made the restaurant take-out-only to keep everyone as safe as possible.
As Rina and Brandon prepared to travel up to Vermont to visit her mother, Brandon decided to email Steve Chu. He explained the situation and asked for the recipe in hopes of making her favorite entrée for her. Steve Chu, however, responded in a way the Jones never would have expected.
“Thanks for reaching out,” Chu wrote. “We’d like to meet you in Vermont and make it fresh for you.” Though Brandon reminded him of the six-hour drive, Chu responded, “‘No problem. You tell us the date, time and location and we’ll be there.’”
The next day, Chu and his business partner, Ephrem Abebe, and his employee Joe Anonuevo loaded up the back of his truck with a hot plate and a cooler of essentials. They picked up a few things in the customer’s hometown, then got to work in the parking lot of Rina Jones’ mother’s condo building.
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Steve Chu preparing the tempura broccoli in the back of his truck. Credit: Brandon Jones.
The team prepared the famous broccoli tempura as well as a tofu dish with peanut sauce. They boxed it up and went up to Brandon Jones’ mother-in-law’s condo to deliver it.
“As soon as she opened the door, she recognized the aroma immediately,” Brandon Jones says. “It smelled amazing.”
Steve Chu reported that he recognized the woman too. Evidently, since opening his business, she has visited the restaurant upwards of 20 times and always makes a point to tell the staff just how wonderful the food is.
“To me, it was a huge honor to be able to help fulfill the family’s wishes,” Chu says. “This is about her, not us. There was a lot of good, positive energy in doing this.”
The family offered Chu and his team money for the trip, but they refused it. To the trio, it was about making a woman happy, not potential accolades.
“She’s a lovely lady, who has showered us with love at our restaurant for years,” he said. “It was a powerful experience, and I’m happy that we could make it happen.”
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