The past few months have brought numerous hurdles for Filipino American chef AC Boral and his Long Beach restaurant Bebot Filipino Soul Food — from the closure of indoor dining to a recent destructive fire — but nothing can dampen the service of providing savory meals to community members affected by the pandemic.
At around 3 a.m. on Monday, August 17, an electrical fire broke out inside Bebot, causing interior damage to the restaurant and other businesses in the strip mall along Fourth Street. No injuries were reported as Boral and staff had left the space some six hours before after wrapping up the day’s work.
“What we lost was really big and it was definitely devastating and traumatic for me, my family and staff to have this happen,” Boral told the Asian Journal in a recent interview. “But at the end of the day, what we lost was just a space and personal property. Those things can be replaced and we can still find a home and still do what we do.”
Since COVID-19 hit Los Angeles County, prompting the closure of indoor dining, Bebot had been closed to the public.
However, its kitchen was transitioned to prepare meals and grocery bags for front-line workers, senior citizens, migrant and undocumented families, and other vulnerable residents through the Filipino Migrant Center and Long Beach Community Action Partners. The restaurant was also recently chosen to participate in the city’s Great Plates for Seniors program.
From what started with providing 10 meals spun off to delivering 1,600 meals weekly just before the incident.
Following the fire, a GoFundMe page was set up with a $25,000 goal that will go toward subsidizing lost wages of Bebot’s staff and finding a temporary space to run the community kitchen operations. As of this writing, the fundraiser has raised close to $15,000.
Boral emphasized that the funds won’t be for rebuilding and reopening the physical restaurant itself — which is more likely to happen by next spring — because insurance will take care of that. The Saturday after the fire a bake sale at fellow Fil-Am business Romeo Chocolates was held to raise additional funds.
“Just because our restaurant burned down doesn’t mean the needs of the community have gone away,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s more important for them to get fed than for me to mope around.”
Boral, known for his brunch pop-up series Rice & Shine and a brief stint operating lunch counter Baon in Downtown LA, opened Bebot in Long Beach last fall and was set to celebrate its one-year anniversary this September by restructuring Bebot Community Kitchen into a non-profit and testing out creative alternatives to serve customers, such as selling take-home meal kits.
“Because we can’t create an emotional connection with diners in a dining room, you have to do that in other ways so the little touches that would go into these meal kits will set us apart,” Boral said. “I had a good game plan going, but I’ll take this time to take care of myself, try to be a good citizen, and make the best of it until I figure out our next steps.”