A Baltimore restaurant owner drove six hours to Vermont to cook for a dying woman who wanted to eat his tempura broccoli one last time.

By Cathy Free

Earlier this month, Brandon Jones, 37, wrote an email to Steve Chu, 30, a co-owner of two Ekiben restaurants in Baltimore, explaining that his mother-in-law had terminal cancer but had joked that the last thing she’d like to eat on her death bed was Ekiben’s tempura broccoli.

Brandon merely asked if Steve would be willing to share the recipe so that he and his wife Rina Jones, 38, could prepare it for her when they went to visit.

But Steve shocked them by going above and beyond, insisting that he, his business partner, and an employee would make the long drive themselves to prepare the beloved dish for Rina’s mother so that she could enjoy it fresh.

Steve Chu, co-owner of Baltimore’s Ekiben restaurant, holds the bag of finished entrees he and business partner Ephrem Abebe, background, made for a customer who has terminal cancer. They are standing in the parking lot of the customer’s Vermont condo building, where they cooked the food on March 13. (Brandon Jones)

Steve, his business partner Ephrem Abebe, and employee Joe Anonuevo hit the road the very next day, spending the night at an Airbnb and picking up the ingredients they needed before stopping by Rina’s mother’s condo.  

There, they grilled up food on a hot plate in the back of their pickup truck. They didn’t just make Rina’s mother’s beloved broccoli dish — they also cooked up tofu with peanut sauce and steamed rice to complete the meal.  

They then delivered the food to Rina’s mother’s door, giving her quite a surprise. 

Rina Jones’ mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She lives in Vermont but has visited Ekiben many times over the years and loves their tempura broccoli

Steve, who wouldn’t accept payment for the food, said it was ‘a huge honor to be able to help fulfill the family’s wishes.’ 

‘This is about her, not us. There was a lot of good, positive energy in doing this,’ he said.

Rina’s mother, who has struggled eating lately, devoured it all and was left in tears over the act of generosity

He also said he recognized Rina’s mother as a customer who always had nice things to say about the food.

‘She’s a lovely lady, who has showered us with love at our restaurant for years,’ he said. ‘It was a powerful experience, and I’m happy that we could make it happen.’

When Brandon Jones wrote about the family’s experience on a group Facebook page, the post quickly got thousands of likes.

It was picked up by Baltimore City Council member Zeke Cohen, who wrote:

“I always point to Ekiben as a business that always models respect for community and treats people with love. Plus their food is amazing! Read this, eat their tofu nuggets and try not to cry!”

Loyal customers are now swamping Ekiben’s two locations with orders, but Chu said he’s not looking for accolades. He said the request was such a simple one to grant that he couldn’t imagine not doing it.

“She’s a lovely lady, who has showered us with love at our restaurant for years,” he said. “It was a powerful experience, and I’m happy that we could make it happen.”

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