Eat, Drink & Be Generous Chef a Semifinalist for Restaurant Award
According to the National Restaurant Association, one out of every three restaurants close within their first year of opening. But those odds scarcely fazed chef/owner Melissa Miranda when she opened Musang, a Filipino restaurant that opened in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood in January 2020.
Inspired by her father’s passion for food, buoyed by hosting successful popups and raising $90,000 in Kickstarter funding, she launched her establishment primed for the long haul, eager to satisfy local palates with fare that included short rib kare kare and beef mechado.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic left the industry scorched like a piece of burned toast.
“March of 2020 was the closest it came to shutting down, when all the shutdowns happened. But we were never just a restaurant; we are a community space,” said Miranda. We were built by community for the community, and it was organic for us that this is what we were going to do for that time. Closing down was never an option for me.”
Miranda kept Musang (pronounced moo-SONG) going, yet during the pandemic, she discontinued her regular business for the safety of the community and instead turned the restaurant into a community kitchen, daily serving about 200 free, culturally appropriate meals for people in need. Donations from the community and grants helped keep the doors open. Then when some restrictions lifted, Musang gradually reopened for regular business, first serving takeout and seating customers in a patio section installed in November— all while maintaining its community kitchen.
Now, with many pandemic-related restrictions behind us, Musang is close to returning to pre-pandemic capacity. Later this month, the restaurant will be featured in United Way of King County’s Eat, Drink & Be Generous event on March 23 that is centered around making good food and raising money to support the community.
And last week, the James Beard Foundation named Musang a semifinalist for its 2022 Restaurant and Chef Awards. According to the foundation website, the James Beard Award “recognizes exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.”
“It’s really exciting to be recognized. It’s exciting for my team and the restaurant to be recognized,” said Miranda, who was named in the category of Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific (AK, HI, OR, WA). “We didn’t open our restaurant to win awards, there is still a lot of work to be done, but it’s nice to feel recognized for these efforts.”
Miranda is one of two local chefs with ties to United Way who were named James Beard Award semifinalists. The other is chef Kristi Brown of Communion Restaurant & Bar in Seattle; she is a semifinalist in the Emerging Chef category. United Way has enjoyed Kristi’s cuisine since we enlisted her catering service, That Brown Girl Cooks, to cater our board of directors’ meetings and receptions. Brown also supported Miranda’s community kitchen efforts.
Renee Erickson, who took part in an Eat Drink & Be Generous event in 2021, was nominated for a Beard Award this year as well. Beard Award winners will be named this month. An award ceremony is slated for June.
When things looked bleakest for Musang, Miranda said she allowed herself to grieve over the fact that her vision for Musang’s inaugural year pre-pandemic would not come to fruition. Then she turned to her own unique experiences to pull her through, knowing that she hadn’t traveled the traditional role to earning her establishment; she graduated college with a degree in sociology and had worked in management and the corporate world. She cultivated partnerships with non-profit organizations and Filipinx leaders who shared her passions for food and community.
That community helped comprise much of her clientele and staff. Miranda still runs the community kitchen, serving 600 meals a week. “One thing they never tell you when you’re starting a business or being an owner is that all of a sudden you are responsible for the lives of so many people,” Miranda. “So much of my team is family to me. During the pandemic, a lot of my team was still with their families, and so I said, ‘I can’t put you at risk.’”
Most of my team is family to me. During the pandemic, a lot of my team was still with their families, and so I said, ‘I can’t put you at risk.’Melissa Miranda, chef/owner of Musang
Miranda also drew resolve in being the child of immigrants, realizing sacrifices her parents made to give her opportunities they didn’t have. “The word resilience is a word I tend to use,” she said. “I saw my parents in situations where they had to be resilient. And part of it was that when things happened, I just went into tunnel vision. I said, ‘I got to grind. I got to do this.’”
Miranda will join Chef Ethan Stowell for a virtual cooking class during our Eat, Drink & Be Generous. Guests will learn how to make one of Musang’s most popular dishes and enjoy delicious cocktails from Ethan Stowell Restaurants! Guests will also hear about United Way of King County’s Community Relief Fund—an effort to help people impacted by the COVID-19 crisis with food relief.