As the weather heats up, and we move into summer (see ya, allergy season), a new era has sprung for Mama’s Drive-By Kitchen. A lot has changed since we last checked up on the revolutionary charity initiative/restaurant pop-up/delivery platform. They’ve completed massive collaborations with everyone from the new Thai restaurant Holy Basil to 118-year-old Fugetsu-Do in Little Tokyo, introduced a meal-matching program, and have gone from up-and-coming pop-up to radical restaurant cooperative.
We called up Alice Han and Jared Jue of Mama to catch up and see what they’ve been up to.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Alice: They announced their closure a week after Jun Won last year. When that happened, we immediately reached out, and offered to do something with them, but they were completely bombarded with orders. So, we just told them “We’re here for you,” then stepped back.
After seeing the success of our pop-up with Jun Won last year, and our work to preserve legacy restaurants in LA, when we checked back in with them, they agreed. The mom [from Beverly Soon Tofu] never wanted to close and was itching to get back to work. She’s been at home, taking care of her 91-year-old mother, and was ready to do something new. So, the timing just worked out.
Your Beverly Soon Tofu drop sold out in… less than three minutes. How does that feel?
We never know if we’re going to sell out, or whether or not people are going to show up. We try to put together as many meals as we can, working together with the restaurant, but based on resources (Beverly Soon Tofu doesn’t have a permanent kitchen at the moment), this is what we could do. We actually upped the number of meals right before the launch, but when we went live, I saw the quantities drop by half in real time. Then, they were just gone.
We weren’t sure how this one was going to sell, since it’s a bit pricier with the addition of shirts, but even when those sets were gone, people still wanted to support the restaurant and bought merch.
Speaking of which, this was the first time you sold merch! How did that come about?
Jared: It’s been a long time coming. Usually, these things [pop-ups] come together at the last minute, but we got ahead of it and produced the shirts beforehand. The design is based off Beverly Soon Tofu’s valet sign. We dug through their old photos before finally deciding on it - it pays homage to their legacy/heritage-type restaurant. Plus, we wanted to make sure that we were giving back to the restaurant, so half of the t-shirt profits will go back to Beverly Soon Tofu.
We’re teasing the merch side of things out, since we’re still small, but we do want to bring it back, for future collaborations.
Something you’ve introduced since our last talk is the Meal Matching Program – can you explain that?
Alice: Yes! For every meal sold through the pop-up, we donate another meal to a senior citizen in need. We try our best to match the ethnicity of the seniors with the cuisine. For example, when we did the Little Tokyo Combo with Azay, Kouraku, and Fugetsu-Do, we partnered with the Little Tokyo Service Center to provide meals to Japanese elders. Then when we did Thai Combo, with Holy Basil, Northern Thai Food Club, and Ras Noodle, we worked with the Thai Community Development Center. Now, we’re donating Beverly Soon Tofu meals to Korean seniors.
It’s so fun. Everyone gets so excited. Usually, senior citizen centers only get small donations, like grab-and-go sandwiches, not full meals, and in a limited quantity. Like, a center will only get 20 meals [for 80+ people], then has to decide who gets to have one. But we give them the full amount – an entire meal for each and every person. They tell us that they usually end up having enough to last them for two to three meals (laughs).
So, what’s next?
Our next collaboration is Brodard Chateau! Back by popular demand. We’re bringing back the Little Saigon restaurant’s famous spring rolls, to three locations across LA. We worked with their kitchen staff to prep as many rolls as possible, so the order window should be open much longer this time. Preorders open this Wednesday, May 19th at 12pm, with pickups on Sunday, May 23rd.