Long Beach, California 2020-08-19 21:15:22 –
AC Boral’s popular Bebot Filipino Soul Food restaurant in Long Beach hadn’t been open to the public for months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the chef and his staff were still just as busy.
The Oxnard-born chef shifted his focus during the pandemic from running the restaurant to providing thousands of free meals to needy Long Beach residents.
But a fire early Monday morning has practically destroyed his 2,000-square-foot restaurant, which opened about a year ago.
“It’s still super surreal. We were there the night before getting about 500 meals ready, me and my mom were there until about 10. Then like basically at 5 a.m. when the team gets there to prepare more meals, I get a call and I jump out of bed and got there. Everything is pretty just leveled, fire damage everywhere,” he said.
Once he made sure no one was hurt, Boral’s next thought was to find a temporary kitchen or some place to continue to work so they can keep preparing free meals for Long Beach residents.
“We’re not going to stop doing that, we’re still going to continue, we still have about 200 people that depend on us this weekend for meals and groceries so I’m planning on just finding a space to be able to set those up to make sure our community still gets served and taken care of,” he said.
Boral opened the 40-seat Bebot in September after gaining a following with his Filipino-American pop-up restaurant called Rice & Shine, which he operated for about five years.
Inspired by family meals, Boral served what he called Filipino soul food, which he said at the time had more to do about the love he put into it rather than a direct analog to soul food.
The formula worked and Bebot quickly became a neighborhood hot spot.
But when the pandemic struck, Boral wanted to do something more meaningful for his community so he decided to take part in the city’s Great Plates program, which delivered free meals to older adults. Then, he partnered with the Filipino Migrant Center, which is working to bring free meals and groceries to needy Long Beach residents.
“I wanted to do a lot of community service because I knew there was going to be a bigger need for food assistance,” Boral said.
At one point, Boral said he and and his staff prepared approximately 1,600 meals a week.
And just before the fire he was set to announce that Bebot would become a nonprofit called Bebot Community Kitchen to help feed those in need while continuing to operate the restaurant.
“We had some really big plans for the rest of the year as we were shifting into a nonprofit model…we also had some unique plans for reopening the restaurant with social distancing. We were getting really creative in redefining what a restaurant should be and that (Bebot) was going to be our home base and unfortunately now we don’t have it,” Boral said.
For now Boral has set up a GoFundMe page to find a new kitchen for Bebot Community Kitchen and he also hopes to bring Bebot the restaurant back one day.
“We are going to rebuild, who knows in what form or how it’s going to be when we finally get there, but the plan is to reopen the restaurant,” he said.
“And we’re going to continue to do this community work, we lost our home but we haven’t lost our purpose,” he added.