Dishing up food and kindness in a COVID-19 world

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Uyen Nguyen prepares a food delivery to healthcare workers from her Seattle restaurant Nue. Photo provided by Nguyen

Uyen Nguyen, a refugee and Oxfam Sister on the Planet ambassador, delivers meals to Seattle healthcare workers and Black Lives Matter activists.

On World Refugee Day—June 20th—we join people across the US to celebrate the courage and resilience of refugees—recognizing the hardships they have faced, the new lives they have created, and the positive impact they have around the world.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in Seattle, Uyen Nguyen has been using her restaurant, Nue, for good, adapting her business to keep employees in their jobs safely, while also feeding essential workers.

Nguyen is the co-owner of the award-winning Seattle restaurant, which specializes in international street food, and whose mission is to bring the community together through food. Her pull to give back to her community stems from the activism and assistance that got her to where she is now.

Nguyen arrived in the US at age 11 as an unaccompanied minor. The journey that brought her from Vietnam included the loss of her mother and two siblings, and a one-and-a-half year stay in a refugee camp in the Philippines. Eventually, Nguyen and her older brother made it to California, where they were placed in the care of their aunt and uncle.

Despite these early hardships, Nguyen persevered. She earned a master’s degree in biomedical sciences from the University of California-San Diego, and an MBA from the University of California-Berkeley. After establishing a career in investment, she decided to follow her passion for international cuisine and co-founded Nue.

As part of her trip to Jordan to visit Oxfam's programmatic work around the Syrian refugee crisis, Nguyen met with Syrian refugee entrepreneurs at the Jasmine Initiative in Amman, Jordan. Photo: Becky Davis/Oxfam

Nguyen’s charitable work includes serving as a board member of, a Seattle nonprofit that provides life skills and job training to help prevent homelessness. Since 2017, she has served as an Oxfam Sister on the Planet ambassador, part of a group of powerful women who use their influence to fight global poverty, hunger, and injustice, with a focus on empowering women and girls worldwide.

As a Sister, Nguyen participated in an Oxfam-hosted event in 2017 in which we rented President Trump’s childhood home in New York to bring attention to the refugee crisis. She also recently traveled to Jordan with a group of fellow Sisters to meet with refugee women entrepreneurs and leaders in Zaatari Camp, the world’s largest refugee camp for Syrian refugees.

Shifting Nue’s mission to feed those doing selfless work

COVID-19 has hit the restaurant industry and its supply chain particularly hard. As restaurants have been forced to shutter, suppliers are dealing with inventory that cannot be sold. That in turn affects the farmers who supply them; they are continuing to produce food but are finding themselves without buyers. And so, food goes to waste.

With so many people out of work or working in service to greater society, Nguyen and her partner Chris Cvetkovich realized they were in a unique position to bridge the gap between food excess and those who deserved to be fed. As purveyors of international cuisine with a rotating menu, the restaurant is not tied to any particular ingredients, so Nue’s chefs can draw on any and all products that have been donated to them, which keeps their costs low, the amount they can give high, all the while reducing food waste.

Nguyen and Cvetkovich had always planned to set up a non-profit arm to their business, which they were going to call Nue Planet. When the coronavirus hit, it made sense to make that jump. The focus of Nue Planet is to feed frontline healthcare workers in the Seattle region.

“[Healthcare workers] are one of our best defenses against the unimaginable health and death toll that our society is facing due to COVID-19,” Nguyen said. “They are taking care of us and we vow to do all we can to take care of them.”

To date, Nue has delivered more than 2,000 meals to healthcare workers, including the often-unseen hospital cleaners, operating with first two and now four cooks. Staff have made over 20 deliveries to hospitals and community health centers, and added produce to their deliveries—donations from a local produce supplier. All the while, Nue continues to be open to customers for take-out and delivery.

Since the wave of protests across the US against police brutality and in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade at the hands of police, Nguyen stepped up again through Nue to donate meals to organizations that work toward equity and justice for the Black community in Seattle.

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