On Feb. 6, along 12th Avenue and Jackson Street in Little Saigon, ChuMinh Tofu Vegan Deli hosted a Lunar New Year meal for guests lined down the block. The special menu included rice, vegan BBQ pork, spicy tofu, stir-fried veggies, eggrolls, oranges, and $1,000 distributed to guests in red envelopes. Volunteers served the free food and passed out the envelopes along with warm clothes and supplies to their many guests — not customers per se, but people in need of a warm meal and who may struggle to afford one most days.
It is no accident that ChuMinh Tofu still stands tall in a spot that other businesses have long since vacated.
To date, Thanh-Nga “Tanya” Nguyễn and her staff have held down the spot on South Jackson Street for 10 years. Tanya’s journey to ChuMinh has involved a myriad of pathways. Medical school in Vietnam, biochemistry, a mindfulness in Buddhism, a passion for tofu, and a culture of caring — all manifest into the language of love present at ChuMinh to this day: food and mutual aid.
“I met Tanya years ago — I would come to ChuMinh Tofu and buy meals for community meetings. In the era I was raised in, banh mi was part of the diet at community meetings,” said organizer Johnny Fikru. “As I walked inside trying to determine what I wanted to eat, I was struck by the warm presence of Tanya. Anyone that’s ever been lucky enough to feel that energy knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s an inviting and warm presence. It’s authentic. It’s caring. It is peaceful. I was welcomed in a way that I haven’t felt at a restaurant, and it felt so great.”