The day before Harvey attacked the Bayou City in earnest, Cat Huynh and Angie Dang made a judgment call to close their modern Vietnamese restaurant, Les Ba’Get in Montrose, indefinitely. As the couple’s Facebook post explained, they made the decision to ensure the safety of their employees. And employees were safe. “Luckily, this whole Montrose area, nothing really happened to it,” Angie later told Houstonia. The restaurant was untouched.
But when water was released from the Addicks Reservoir on September 1, Cat and Angie found themselves trapped in their Katy neighborhood. As the couple watched Facebook, they saw that their friends, chef Richard Knight (most recently of the now-closed Hunky Dory) and his wife Carrie Jean Knight, were trying to assemble chefs to gather and prepare food for first responders. “They were feeling helpless,” said Carrie Jean. Though they couldn’t leave Katy, they could offer their restaurant and its supplies. “The fact that they trusted us with their baby, that’s like handing somebody the keys to your Porsche,” she added.
On the night of Monday, August 28, Les Ba’Get manager Jen Su was able to get to the restaurant and let the Knights into the kitchen. The couple had spent the day rescuing people from flooded homes, but they were looking forward to helping within their own milieu. “Whatever we had, they were more than welcome to use,” said Angie, “for all the first responders and all the law enforcement.”
As was the situation at many restaurants after the flood, the walk-in cooler at Les Ba’Get was low on produce. But there was plenty of protein. That night, volunteers began folding Vietnamese spring rolls. Cat and Angie shared their recipes, so the rolls would be just right. The crew boiled pots of pho, too.
They brought both to the Police Officers’ Union on State Street. “The cops were so thrilled. Being from Houston, that’s comfort food,” said Richard of the emergency pho. “Houston being so multicultural, to have that warm soup and that crunchy spring roll when they couldn’t go home—they were shoving spring rolls in their faces like they were hot dogs.”
From the first night’s skeleton crew of 20, the group ballooned to 50 volunteers, all bustling in and out of Les Ba’Get’s kitchen. Carrie Jean created the Facebook group Houston Service Industry for Harvey Relief, to gather not only the people but the supplies necessary to feed about 1,000 people each day, including evacuees at George R. Brown Convention Center.
That Wednesday, the restaurateurs were finally able to escape Katy, though it took two hours to navigate around blocked roads and reach Montrose. And that night, they poured beers for everyone present to thank them, and gifted the Knights with a bottle of double-cask Macallan Scotch.
But it was all just beginning. Soon, the volunteer effort merged with a few similar initiatives already underway and moved into a larger space in the former SEARCH Homeless Services building at 2505 Fannin Street, now known as the Midtown Kitchen Collective. There, service-industry veterans and other volunteers crafted hot food and sandwiches all day from goods donated by restaurants, distributors and the public. One day, the crew produced 1,865 sandwiches in an hour. Organizers estimated that they’d made more than 200,000 meals before handing the effort off to charity Second Servings, which shares prepared food from restaurants and events with those who need it.
As for Les Ba’Get, it quickly reopened—albeit with an abbreviated post-Harvey menu at first. Not that its owners stopped giving during those tumultuous early days, as they continued to arrange drop-offs in Midtown via Facebook. “They are that smile, that warm food hug that comforts people,” said Carrie Jean. “They are that personified.”