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An Open Letter from Chef Asia Mei

Hello Governor Baker, Mayor Walsh, Councilor Frank Baker, and Councilor Ricardo Arroyo,

I am so sorry that I have to reach out to you under circumstances like these. My Boston Family is constituted of many fiercely close friends, coworkers, and employees who have only spoken the highest of you, and my heart aches for the numerous complicated decisions you must have in front of you.

I am Asia Mei, the chef and owner of Moonshine 152 in Southie. We are the modern interpretation of a neighborhood bistro–a community driven small business, very much like a Cheers, where so much of the personality of the restaurant is composed of the people who frequent and work there. Councilor Baker, I believe you have visited yourself and been a patron at Moonshine several times over the years.

The vast majority of people that make up the regulars and staff at Moonshine are either Southie residents or from Dorchester. We have employed family members of the Bakers, Savin Hill families, and many who have originated from the D Street public housing development in Southie… many of which came to us with zero restaurant experience and were able to refocus their lives, learn/train, and become part of something much more than just a job.

I am like every small business owner in this city. I took a huge gamble, and poured my life savings, efforts, and dreams into this small business. Even with the current nightmarish circumstances, I would never take it back. Having been able to be a part of this community in a REAL way has been the biggest honor and pleasure of my life. I am a minority female, and even though the odds were always against us, striving to survive the tough industry was a battle that I was proud to be in to show people that living and working for their passions could be one and the same.

Moonshine 152 just celebrated it’s 5th anniversary, and ironically enough, with the loss of the parade and the ever-changing takeout/capacity restrictions, we never got to celebrate our 6th St. Patrick’s Day… Instead, on March 17th, we literally had to close.

The entire team is heartbroken. We were lucky enough to employ everyone from some of the longest tenured families in Dorchester to multiple people from your city offices. There wasn’t one person who didn’t say that Moonshine was the best job they’ve ever had, during the phone calls where I had to lay every single person off. This is a group of people, who like EVERYONE in the small business and restaurant industry in Boston, are not asking for extreme handouts; we are asking for a real way to go back to work and serve the city.

The small businesses/service industry needs expedited, significant relief. We NEED government mandated rent/mortgage freezes. Not all of us have landlords that will negotiate, and who can blame them if they are still responsible for the mortgages? Also, there is NO help from insurance. Personally, I will be held responsible for a year’s worth of full rent, no matter what. That isn’t my LLC, it is me. Declaring personal bankruptcy, bankruptcy of the small business, and losing the ability to employ and provide income for one of Boston’s hardest working teams will be a horrible reality.

If there is any way you can really help us, until more is figured out in the future with grants/loans, of course, it is through controlling rent both commercial and residential. THIS IS WITHIN YOUR CONTROL. I am not saying it is a solve-all, but all of these so-so, promissory “we will support and help small business” statements will not be enough. Our administration’s limited loans that further indebt us, the allowances to do takeout only–these are only bandaids for a system that is fundamentally broken now, and we need immediate and serious HELP.

I am a working chef and owner. I have worked every single day, 7/days a week, since we opened during the Snowpocalypse five years ago. In Southie, which is buried between the evolving neighborhood of Dorchester and the South End, Seaport, and Ink Block, we have been able to truly distinguish ourselves and stay true to EVERYTHING that I have found important to the community

We have always operated with integrity and would be heartbroken to lose that opportunity to be part of the community simply because the tight margins and restrictions didn’t make sense for the impact of this pandemic virus.

We poured over every permutation possible to stay open. Restaurants like ours not only would have continued to hemorrhage money due to the tight margins everyone is aware of–we were also receiving xenophobic threats and calls by the minute by staying open. That, in addition to the obvious concerns for the health and safety of my employees led to the necessity to close indefinitely. I also believe in doing all we can to “flatten the curve” to truly stop the virus as best we can. The struggle to reopen will not only be a burden about having had to pay things like past bills and rent while being closed, it will also be the unprecedented situation of finding our bearings in a new world. To have a chance, there needs to be help from top down, and it needs to be regulated.

Please feel free to contact me however you can if it helps. Yesterday, I converted my lifeless restaurant into a hub for much needed blood drives for the Red Cross, while I still could. In times like these, where there is such universal fear and self-preservation going on, we have to do what we can to be the best examples possible for those who follow us, and take care of each other. If you do not mandate help to the small business industries, we will not be able to be there on the flipside to service to the people the way it will be needed more than ever.

All of my best wishes and hopes for everything I know you can do for this city. We are all behind you, but we need your help to be there.

Best,

Asia Mei

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About the Author

Maureen Dahill

Maureen Dahill is the editor of Caught in Southie and a lifelong resident of South Boston sometimes mistaken for a yuppie. Co-host of Caught Up, storyteller, lover of red wine and binge watching TV series. Mrs. Peter G. Follow her @MaureenCaught.