by Amanda Ong
This Saturday, Nov. 27, is the annual Chinatown-International District (CID) Small Business Saturday Food Walk. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., you can visit a variety of small CID businesses to find offerings from retail to food, with each participating with a selection of treats for only $6. The CID Food Walk features items for dozens of CID businesses — from egg rolls and hum bao at ChuMinh Tofu Vegan Deli to cream puffs at Beard Papa’s and discounted merchandise at the Wing Luke Museum.
The Small Business Saturday Food Walk is an event held by the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Association (CIDBIA), a nonprofit organization based in the CID that does work in public safety, sanitation, marketing, communications, neighborhood events, and advocacy. It is one of 10 Business Improvement Associations throughout the city. During the event, the CIDBIA will be hosting a table at Hing Hay Park where you can ask questions, find recommendations, and receive a bag of small goodies.
“It’s a really good opportunity to just highlight collectively the entire neighborhood, and call out to all the great things that we have besides just a certain cuisine of food,” said Connie Au-Yeung, communications and marketing manager at CIDBIA, in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “There’s drinks, and there’s different pastries and retail items, and a really great variety within Chinatown, Japantown, Little Saigon.”
CIDBIA’s food walks have been running for years and have had many iterations. The original idea for the event was a kind of “happy-hour cakewalk.” At the time, it helped to bring businesses a little bit more traffic between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m, after the lunch rush and before the dinner rush, when businesses find themselves in a slow mode. So the CIDBIA brought the Food Walk to help activate the neighborhood’s small businesses.
The first few food walks were small — attracting a few recurring businesses and small crowds. However, the event has been growing, and this upcoming Small Business Saturday Food Walk is sure to be a success. This year, the summer series of food walks and the Lunar New Year Food Walk attracted more than 500 people.
“The Small Business Saturday Food Walk is specifically to support and highlight all of the unique CID restaurants and what the retailers are offering,” Au-Yeung said. “I’m also a Chinese American, so I feel very connected to the neighborhood in terms of preserving the culture and really activating a lot of the small businesses through events and marketing here.”
Au-Yeung herself immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong as a child, and came to live in the CID, where she grew up. “It holds a very special spot for me in terms of really preserving the identity of this neighborhood,” she said.
In the face of the past year of the pandemic, the onslaught of anti-Asian racism, and gentrification in the neighborhood, the Food Walk represents more than just an event to find delicious goodies; it also has a part in asserting the beauty and diversity of the neighborhood culture and supporting local small businesses.
Au-Yeung told the Emerald that for a person who might not be familiar with any Asian culture — and, by extent, the culture of CID — it might be easy to become overwhelmed and even dismissive. But the Food Walk can be a good starting point for a person who is trying to familiarize themselves a bit with Asian cultures, navigate the diverse offerings of Asian food, and simply challenge themselves to try out new and different things.
Au-Yeung spoke specifically to the price points associated with Chinese food and the price points offered at the Food Walk. Traditionally, Chinese cuisine in the United States has been associated with being cheap and unhealthy. This association has further been lumped together with all Asian food. The stereotype diminishes the labor, quality, and cultural history that go into Asian food. The Food Walk hopes to challenge these assumptions while also offering accessible prices.
“It should be a fair price for businesses to participate, because they’re bringing out quality items into these events,” Au-Yeung said. “You have to manage the reality of businesses having to spend money putting together everything, from the plating, the logistics, to the cooking staff, the labor that goes into it. And so I think $6 is already a really fair price.”
With nearly half of all Asian Americans living in the West, Asian American communities are prevalent and have been here since the 1800s. Different Asian cuisines have been on the West Coast for just as long, and are enjoyed by Asian Americans and other communities alike. It’s no surprise, then, that food walks and night markets, which are popular in Asia, are popping up more and more in Seattle. During the pandemic, these outdoor events also mark a fun and safe way for friends and family to get together and share food and culture.
As small businesses are still reeling from the hit of the pandemic, the Food Walk represents an opportunity for them to get exposure and bring in holiday business. As the Food Walk has grown, loyal attendees have treated it like a scavenger hunt — searching for the seasonal items made specifically for the Food Walk. In the last year, more businesses have featured collaborations and pop-up shops coordinated in time to participate in the Food Walk.
“The Food Walk itself is something that ties the community together. It’s built by and for the community, it highlights and showcases the community, it’s a collective effort,” Au-Yeung said. “I just hope people continue to highlight all the resilient small, local businesses in the neighborhood and continue spending our dollars locally here.”
You can find more information about the Small Business Saturday Food Walk on its CIDBIA website, Facebook event page, and Instagram post. You can also follow the CIDBIA on Facebook and Instagram at @IHeartID for future events.
Visit the Small Business Saturday Food Walk this Saturday, Nov. 27, at Hing Hay Park on 423 Maynard Ave. S.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: CID Food Walk Summer Series in August of 2021. Photo courtesy of Connie Au-Yeung.
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