Matt Lockwood - AUTHOR
Restaurant group serves helping of generosity, raising money for IDefine
This is the season of giving, but the owner of the Mecha Noodle Bar has developed a program that allows it to help others all year long, and he is encouraging other restaurateurs to get into the spirit.
Tony Pham opened the first Mecha Noodle Bar – which means mom and pop in Vietnamese – a decade ago in Fairfield, Connecticut to pay homage to his mom and dad. He was also motivated to do good. Growing up, Tony’s younger sister had special needs and as the older brother in an Asian household he always felt a responsibility to care for her.
“Before I even had the opportunity to open up the stores, I knew that I was going to do something more than just business,” said Pham. “I was going to show how small businesses can make the biggest impact and help others.”
Mecha Noodle Bar now has seven locations in the northeast – including two new ones in Boston – and Pham is delivering on his plans through a simple, but powerful program called Eat Justice. Every month, Mecha donates 50 cents of each bowl of ramen sold to support a cause selected by its staff.
It now raises an average of $20,000 a month, and recently surpassed a half-a-million dollars donated to several nonprofits. In addition to helping others, Pham says it’s good business.
“It really builds purpose inside the four walls of our company,” said Pham. “It’s been tremendous, especially during COVID when a lot of people were trying to hire staff, we retained practically everyone. They came back because they knew it was more than just the restaurant, more than just profits. It was about purpose and the significance of what we could really do.”
Now that Eat Justice has a track record, Pham has a two-part strategy to grow it. First, benefitting nonprofits are required to recruit another business to participate in Eat Justice to become a recurring beneficiary of Mecha donations each year. Second, Pham hopes to convince other restaurants to participate.
“If you get them in a room with me, I can convince them to do this because it costs them zero dollars, they’re not asking anyone for a single cent, it just happens. They just increase the menu prices 50 cents and donate it,” said Pham. “And they can get their staff behind it because they pick the causes. Then you celebrate that inside the restaurant with flyers to make your guests aware, as well.
“I want other restaurants to say, ‘Oh, he’s able to raise that much money with noodle shops – again without asking for a single cent – why can’t I?’ So, we’re trying to create a reason for them to say yes, and no reason for them to say no.”
The nonprofit IDefine, which is dedicated to finding a cure for a rare genetic disease called Kleefstra Syndrome, is the Eat Justice campaign for December. Proceeds will help fund a Kleefstra Syndrome Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital created by IDefine’s volunteer parents.
Mecha culinary director Brian Reilly nominated IDefine because his friend Geoff Rhyne’s five-year-old daughter, Ella, has Kleefstra Syndrome.
“It makes me feel great to be able to donate to a cause that is near and dear to a very good friend of mine’s heart,” said Reilly. “There are so many things that need to be changed about this world, but if we could just all work together and decide on a common goal, we could do great things.”
If you know of a restaurant that may be interested in joining Eat and allow IDefine to become a recurring beneficiary, please let us know at email@example.com.