Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg donate $800,000 to their favorite Peninsula eateries so food can go to people in need

Larry Chu with donated Chef Chu’s meals for staff at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View. (Photo courtesy Larry Chu)

When Seiko Alba got an email from Mark Zuckerberg in late March, she was sure it was a scam.

The Facebook CEO, a regular at her Palo Alto Japanese restaurant Dohatsuten, asked how she was doing. He and his wife Priscilla Chan had decided to personally donate $100,000 each to Dohatsuten and seven other local restaurants to help them stay afloat during the coronavirus and support their efforts to provide meals to healthcare workers, first responders and people in need.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Alba said.

Vesta in downtown Redwood City was one of seven local restaurants that received $100,000 donations from Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. (Photo by Veronica Weber)

The eight restaurants are among Zuckerberg and Chan’s personal favorites, a spokesperson said. The funds went to Dohatsuten, Palo Alto Sol and Fuki Sushi in Palo Alto, Chef Chu’s in Los Altos, Vesta in Redwood City, Sushi Sam’s Edomata in San Mateo and La Ciccia and The Liberties Bar & Grill in San Francisco. (Fuki Sushi and Palo Alto Sol catered the couple’s backyard wedding.) The restaurant owners can use the money at their discretion, whether it’s to pay employees or cover rent, to be able to continue to provide donated meals.

Because of the funds, Alba is able to keep Dohatsuten open every day for takeout and has brought most of her kitchen staff back to prepare donated meals for local hospitals and shelters. Before, she was watching the numbers in her bank account dwindle. Her staff had been assuring her that she shouldn’t stay open for them, especially if the labor costs exceeded the restaurant’s sales.

“They made me cry,” she said about her staff. “Thanks to Mark and Priscilla, we can keep going.”

At Chef Chu’s, the donation means all employees of the longtime Chinese restaurant, even those who have been laid off, will continue to receive health insurance, general manager Larry Chu said.

Meals from Chef Chu’s recently delivered to local first responders. (Images courtesy of Larry Chu)

Chu (who also initially thought the personal email he received from Zuckerberg was a fake), said the money propelled Chef Chu’s meals donation effort and was soon followed by more community contributions. Through donations, the restaurant is providing free meals to local hospitals, first responders (who can get free takeout meals from Chef Chu’s on Wednesdays), homeless people, seniors and others in need. Chef Chu’s has provided more than 1,00 meals to healthcare workers alone.

Because of the couple’s donation, “we haven’t said ‘no’ to anyone who’s come to us” asking for meals, Chu said.

“So many restaurants are not going to be reopening,” he said. “To be able to do something to keep us working and feeling like we’re doing something good is very positive for the owners and everyone.”

Chu added that the sense that “we’re all in this together, from someone as high of ranks as Mark to someone as low of ranks as a busboy who is getting their insurance taken care of, is reassuring.”

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Elena Kadvany

A writer with a passion for investigative reporting, telling untold stories and public-service journalism, I have built my career covering education and restaurants in the Bay Area. My blog and biweekly newsletter, Peninsula Foodist, is the go-to source for restaurant news in Silicon Valley. My work has been published in The Guardian, Eater, Bon Appetit’s Healthyish, SF Weekly and The Six Fifty.

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