By Candice Wagener | Photography by Hillary Schave
With her long tenure in the restaurant industry, Francesca Hong excels at taking care of people. When something isn’t working or someone is being left out, she is quick to speak up and offer support. For Hong, uplifting others is what strengthens the community, and that’s what keeps her pushing forward.
Since opening Morris Ramen with husband Matt Morris in December 2016, Hong has been dedicated to paying equitable wages and blending the front and back of the house into one cohesive unit — an innovative model for the industry.
In 2017, Hong co-founded the Culinary Ladies Collective, a networking group for women and nonbinary allies to support and empower one another. Last February, CLC celebrated its third cookie drive for Planned Parenthood and its first Femmestival, an event celebrating and uplifting womxn (coined to include nonbinary and transgender women), femmes and entrepreneurs, artists and producers in the culinary, visual and charitable arts industries. Both were huge successes, which Hong co-organized with Garver Events. Then COVID hit.
On March 17, Morris Ramen closed their dining room to customers; today they are just scraping by on carryout and delivery business. They’ve kept staff employed through their work with Cook It Forward Madison, a collaboration between restaurants, grassroots organizations, small farms and nonprofits providing meals to food insecure individuals with mobility or accessibility issues — something Hong developed last spring with Josh Berkson and Patrick Sweeney of Rule No. One Hospitality. Despite forming because of the pandemic, Hong foresees a need for the program lasting well into the future.
Through Cook It Forward Madison, Hong began working alongside Alnisa Allgood, executive director of Collaboration for Good. Allgood was impressed by Hong hopping into delivery trucks and chatting with the drivers. “She was learning about each of the individuals, the organizations, and thinking about what it is that they need to not just survive, but thrive,” says Allgood. “A lot of the times the difference between survival and thriving is just a compassionate ear.”
On Mother’s Day, Hong took the ultimate leap of advocacy, announcing her run for the 76th State Assembly District seat — which she won in November 2020. As 2021 kicks off, Hong steps into this role with the working class, independent businesses, mental health advocacy and racial equity as top priorities.
“I want to be able to navigate the legislature as someone who is committed to still being a servant of the community,” says Hong. “It’s definitely a goal of mine to continue to work with the community and continue to learn from them and stay involved. I’ve been warned that this is a 24/7 job, but being from the restaurant industry, you don’t really shut off work ever. You don’t really stop feeling connected to people and that’s what the industry’s about, and that’s what government should be about.”