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Victoria Lam is always happy to see new customers at Tea Street, the three-year-old bubble tea shop she owns with her brother, Patrick. But there’s a major problem for some prospective patrons: the fear of not knowing what to order or how to interpret the menu. Lam hopes Tea Street’s participation in the first Mile High Asian Food Week will change that. “The collaborative event will really encourage people who haven’t tried different Asian cuisines before to jump in, really give them a try,” she says.
Mile High Asian Food Week, taking place February 22 to 26, will give patrons access to special discounts, secret menu items, and other perks from participating restaurants, cafes, and food trucks. Tea Street is one of the first businesses to sign up for the inaugural event.
Joanne Liu spearheads the initiative with support from members across Denver’s Asian American and Pacific Islander food and beverage industry, including Doris Yuen and Kenneth Wan of Meta Asian Kitchen, Julia Rivera of Mukja, Penelope Wong of Yuan Wonton, and Long Nguyen of Pho King Rapidos. Liu—who is the co-founder and CEO of the the nonprofit Asian Girls Ignite—germinated the idea for the event after learning of Cincinnati’s Asian Cuisine Week. The deeper inspiration, though, comes from the people she knows who have made hospitality their life—her parents, both restaurateurs, as well as local culinary pros.
“Over the past few years, I’ve come to know some of the Colorado AAPI food and beverage chefs and business owners, and I am inspired and resonate with their love and care for their culture and food,” Liu says. “This Asian Food Week is our chance to recognize and celebrate this growing culture.”
Businesses can participate for free, and their offerings will be listed on the Mile High Asian Food Week website and promoted on social media. Liu plans to start small with 10 to 15 participants this year and hopes the affair spurs customers to try new eateries while still supporting their favorites. Through food, it’s a way to celebrate Denver’s AAPI community and its contributions to the state. In 2009 and 2010, Colorado Asian Restaurant Month was organized by Asian Avenue Magazine, Asian Chamber of Commerce, and Colorado Asian Culture and Education Network, but the program dissolved.
The Lams, Aurora natives whose parents moved to Colorado from Vietnam in the mid-1970s, believe the event signals how much Colorado’s Asian culinary scene has grown in the past decade. They hope it raises awareness about the foods and drinks they grew up enjoying. “It takes time for culture to spread and the easiest way is usually through food and media,” Patrick says. Case in point: they make Tea Street’s bubble tea using family recipes.
Mile High Asian Food Week is also a bright spot for many members of the local AAPI community (including myself), who are processing and mourning the devastating mass shootings that recently took place in California. Liu asserts that it’s a reminder to celebrate the positive things happening in the community, when the news can often focus on the opposite. “We want to focus on the beauty and the joy of the Asian community, which is our food,” she says.